KABUL -- An Afghan academic who caused a storm by quitting and tearing up his diplomas on live television to protest the ban on women in universities has vowed to fight the order "even if it costs my life".
Ismail Mashal, 35, a lecturer in journalism for more than a decade at three universities in Kabul, shredded his qualifications and resigned from the institutions after the ban was issued in December.
"I'm raising my voice. I'm standing with my sisters... My protest will continue even if it costs my life," Mashal told AFP Friday (December 30) at his office in Kabul.
"As a man and as a teacher, I was unable to do anything else for them, and I felt that my certificates had become useless. So, I tore them up."
Footage of his December 27 outburst on TOLOnews went viral on social media.
Afghan men rarely protest so publicly in support of women, but Mashal said he would stand up for women's rights.
"In a society where books and pens are snatched away from mothers and sisters, it will lead only to crimes, poverty and humiliation," he said.
The ban on women attending university was imposed because they were not observing a strict Islamic dress code, authorities claimed.
But Mashal, who also runs an educational institution for men and women, dismissed that justification.
"They told us to implement the wearing of hijabs for women -- we did that. They told us to segregate classes -- we did that too," he said.
There is no logical reason for the ban, he said, adding that it "is affecting about 20 million girls".
The ban had no basis in Islamic Sharia law, Mashal added.
"The right to education for women has been given by God, by the Koran, by the Prophet [Mohammad] and our religion," he said holding religious books.
Since August 2021, increasingly harsh restrictions on women have been effectively squeezing them out of public life.
Last week, authorities also ordered all aid groups to stop female employees from coming to work.
Secondary schools for girls have been closed for over a year, while many women have lost jobs in government and are being paid a fraction of their salary to stay home.
Women have also been barred from going to parks, gyms and public baths. They are blocked from travelling without a close male relative and must cover up in public.
"In my view, we are becoming regressive," said Mashal, whose wife lost her job as a teacher last year.
He is worried for his daughter, who is in sixth grade, the last year of primary school, after which the ban on education takes effect.
"I don't know how to tell her to stop studying after grade six," he said. "What crime has she committed?"
Women 'bravely fighting, resisting'
The bans on the activities of women and girls such as working for aid groups or going to school or university have resulted in their deletion from public life, said Fawzia Koofi, a former vice-president of the Afghan parliament.
"They have literally erased women; there is nothing left except that the next edict might be that women should not breathe," she told AFP in an interview last Thursday from London.
A family member had just asked her for help leaving, said Koofi.
The woman said she had not asked for help earlier because "I was working. And I thought, as long as I can work, I can live here."
But now that she was unable to work she said her dreams had been "shattered".
The former MP, who survived two assassination attempts in Afghanistan, said she felt unable to help because "if everyone leaves Afghanistan, what will happen?"
She urged the world to support the women of Afghanistan who were "bravely fighting, resisting, in their own ways".
"They are being arrested; they are being tortured," she said.
"I think it's time for the world to recognise our struggles."
Women's protests of the restrictions imposed on them will not be be easily suppressed in the long term, Koofi predicted.
"That is bravery. I think this will continue because for women, they have nothing else to lose."