- Noor Gul Shafaq
- BBC World Service
“I wasn’t afraid because I thought my demand was fair,” says a defiant 18-year-old Afghan woman whose ambition to go to university was thwarted by the Taliban ban on higher education for women.
Angry at the prospect of seeing her future disappear, Adela (the name we’ve given her for her safety) starred in a extraordinary solo protest in front of Kabul University while invoking words from the Qur’an.
On Sunday December 25, Adela stood at the entrance holding a cardboard with a powerful word written in Arabic: “iqra” or “read”. Muslims believe that this was the first word revealed by God to the prophet Muhammad.
“God has given us the right to education. We need to fear God, not the Taliban who want to take away our rights,” the woman told the BBC’s Afghan service.
“I knew that they treated the protesters very badly. They beat them, they use weapons – they have used tasers and water cannons against them – but I still stood in front of them,” he added.
“At first they didn’t take me seriously. Then a gunman asked me to leave.”
At first Adela refused to leave and stayed put, but her banner caught the attention of the armed guards around her.
Grabbing the cardboard, he addressed a member of the Taliban.
“I asked him if he could read what he had written,” he says.
He didn’t answer, so Adela went further: “Can’t you read the word of God”?
“He got angry and threatened me.”
They took her banner and forced her to leave after 15 minutes of her solo demonstration.
While she was protesting, her older sister was waiting for her in a taxi and taking photos and videos of the protest.
“The taxi driver was afraid of the Taliban. I would ask my sister to stop recording. Fearing trouble, she asked him to get out of the car,” Adela said.
Increased restrictions against women
The Taliban retook power in Afghanistan in 2021 after the withdrawal of Western troops led by the United States.
First they prohibited adolescent girls from attending secondary schools. In September, they banned certain university subjects and told them they could only choose universities within their provinces.
And on December 20 they prevented all access to the university for women, provoking international condemnation.
A few days later, they were banned from working for international and local humanitarian organizations.
Women, especially college women, have been protesting ever since.
Some used the slogan “women, life, freedom” which was popularized in the recent demonstrations in Iran.
Officials at Kabul University, where there are four faculties currently headed by women, told the BBC that female professors were not allowed on campus now.
called to men
Protesting against the Taliban is not easy for women like Adela. She wants men to show similar courage, though it may come at a heavy cost.
“During my protest, a young man wanted to record me to support me. They hit him hard,” says Adela.
A teacher tore up their diplomas live on TV to show their discontent and other sources tell the BBC that more than 50 university professors have resigned as a form of condemnation.
One of those who resigned said he had reversed his decision after being beaten by the Taliban.
However, Adela believes that it is vital for Afghan women that Afghan men join their fight.
“There are few men in Afghanistan with us. In Iran, the men joined their sisters and supported women’s rights. If we unite together to fight for the right to education, we will be 100% successful.says Adele.
There is also quite a bit of external pressure on the Taliban.
The United Nations Security Council said Tuesday that the ban on girls and women from education “represents an increased erosion of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
But the Taliban leaders seem unfazed. Education Minister Nida Mohammad Nadim was quoted in the newspaper Guardian saying the decisions would not be reversed “even if an atomic bomb is dropped on us.”
Adela is equally determined.
“If I can’t fly, I’ll run. If I can’t run, I’ll take slow steps. If I can’t run either, I’ll crawl. But I won’t stop my fight, my resistance,” he said.
Adela says that she can count on the support and appreciation of her friends.
“You are very brave and we are all with you”they tell him.
Adela also believes that women in Afghanistan today are better placed to win this fight than in previous generations.
“We don’t want to go back to the dark ages of 20 years ago. we are braver than the women of that time, because we are more educated and we know our rights,” she said.
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