Afghanistan: Even the heads of mannequins are not safe from the Taliban

Afghanistan Taliban

Not even the mannequins from the shop windows can escape the oppressive hands of the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan. In the country, which has the harshest laws against women, shopkeepers are forced to cover the faces of mannequins with cloth, bags and even foil to prevent "beheading" from the Taliban.

This was done on accordance to the Taliban's strict interpretation of Islamic law (Sharia) which prohibits statues or images with human form, which could be worshiped as idols. Such a development, of course, is also linked to the strong desire of the Taliban to remove women from public life.

Professor Ismail Mashal, who runs a private university in Kabul, said he has had enough of the restrictions women face in Afghanistan.

"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 said to the BBC, 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 students at universities 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.

Not long after the ban was announced, Professor Mashal went viral on social media after tearing up his academic records live 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 for 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. The Taliban's education minister says these degrees should not be taught to women because they are against Islam and Afghan culture.

"Education is either offered to all, or no one. 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?"

Since he went on TV, he has received many threats. Despite this, Prof Mashal appears on local media almost daily.

Even within the Taliban government, there are those who oppose the ban on girls' education - but most have not gone public

In response to the decrees, Afghan women across the country have continued to come out onto the streets to demand their rights.

While the protests have been predominantly led by Afghan women, male students and professors over the past few weeks have also begun risking their lives by speaking out - either by refusing to sit their final exams or by resigning from their positions.

The professor since the Taliban took over the country, he can't understand their focus on restricting women.

"Leave these poor women alone. It's enough. There are much bigger issues that need to be dealt with. There is no law and order in this country, it's like being in a jungle."

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