Afghanistan professor Ismail Mashal has campaigned on girls’ child education, calling on men to stand up for women, especially the girl child.
Professor Mashal, who runs a private university in Kabul, says he has had enough of the restrictions women face in Afghanistan.
Slender and well-dressed, he is a mixture of defiance and raw emotion.
“Even if they’re not allowed in – they should do this daily. It’s the least they can do to prove they are men,” he tells me, holding back tears.
“This is not me being emotional – this is pain. Men must stand up and defend the rights of Afghan women and girls.”
In December, the Taliban government announced female university students would no longer be allowed back – until further notice.
They said they were doing this to enable them to create an Islamic learning environment aligned with Sharia law practices, including changes to the curriculum.
Shortly after the ban was announced, Prof Mashal went viral on social media after tearing up his academic records on television, saying there was no point in gaining an education in today’s Afghanistan.
He says he won’t stay silent.
“The only power I have is my pen; even if they kill me, even if they tear me to pieces, I won’t stay silent now,” Prof Mashal says.
“I know what I am doing is risky. Every morning, I say goodbye to my mother and wife and tell them I may not return. But I am ready and willing to sacrifice my life for 20 million Afghan women and girls and the future of my two children.”
Prof Mashal’s university had 450 female students studying there, and they took courses in journalism, engineering, economics and computer science. However, the Taliban’s education minister says these degrees should not be taught to women because they are against Islam and Afghan culture.
Prof Mashal ran a private university in Kabul where 450 female students studied journalism, engineering and economics, among other subjects.
Prof Mashal says he could have kept his institution open for male students but instead decided to shut it completely.
“Education is either offered to all or no one. So the day I closed the doors of my institution, I was in a lot of pain.
“These people are playing with the future of our girls. My students call me and ask me when I think they’ll be able to go back.
“I have no answers for them. I have no answers for my 12-year-old daughter, who won’t be able to go to high school next year. She continues to ask me what crime she has committed?”