KABUL: More than a dozen male university teachers in Afghanistan have resigned and several male students walked out of their classrooms in support of female students who were forced out of higher education following a Taliban decree.
“I don’t wish to continue working somewhere where there is an organized discrimination against innocent and talented girls of this country by those in power,” Obaidullah Wardak, a Kabul University professor who quit in protest Wednesday, said on Twitter, calling the ban on women education “unjust and immoral.”
Some women and girls also took to the streets in the capital Kabul on Thursday, chanting “education for all.”
Local media reported Taliban soldiers hit the protesters with sticks and whips, while detaining five of them along with two journalists covering the event. Elsewhere, a social media post by Afghan Peace Watch showed several male students walking out of their classes in protest, while video footage showed girls weeping inside a class when hearing about the ban from a teacher.
The solidarity shown by some Afghan men draws parallels with neighboring Iran, where months of protests continue to simmer following the death of a 22-year-old woman in police custody in September after she was arrested for allegedly flouting Islamic dress codes by the country’s so-called morality police. The outcry, largely led by girls and women, has garnered support from thousands of men.
The Taliban’s Minister of Higher Education, Neda Mohammad Nadeem – one of its most conservative members – late Tuesday announced the ban on women attending university. Members of the militant group wasted no time in enforcing the decree. At one point on Wednesday a female student reported that Taliban members pointed guns at them to prevent their entry into a Kabul campus.
Late Thursday, Nadeem justified the decree in an interview with a Taliban-controlled TV channel. He cited the lack of male escorts for female students who leave remote towns for other provinces to attend universities and the lack of segregation of male and female students in classrooms as the main reasons for the ban. “High-level work is ongoing to address these problems that meet Islamic demands,” Nadeem said.
The decision to bar women from universities sparked outrage in the country and across the world. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the decision would stymie the Taliban’s efforts to gain recognition and support at a time when the country is suffering from severe poverty. The US Charge D’affaires to Afghanistan, Karen Decker, backed the protests and resignations for showing solidarity with women and urged the ruling militant group to reverse their decision. Even Pakistan, which has close ties to the group, and Qatar — the host of a Taliban political office in Doha and facilitator of peace talks between the group and the US — expressed disappointment and urged the group to reconsider its decision. The abrupt decree prompted several Afghan social media handles to post a six-month-old Piers Morgan interview with Suhail Shaheen, who heads the Taliban’s political office in Doha, where he states that his own daughters attends school. They are “observing hijab so they haven’t been denied education,” Shaheen said at the time. He didn’t respond to a text message from Bloomberg News seeking comment.
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