KABUL: An Afghan academic who caused a storm by quitting and tearing up his degree certificates 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, a lecturer in journalism for more than a decade at three universities in Kabul, shred his qualifications and resigned from the institutions after the ban was issued this month.
"I'm raising my voice. I'm standing with my sisters... My protest will continue even if it costs my life," Mashal, 35, told AFP at his office in the Afghan capital.
"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."
Footage of his outburst on Tuesday on TOLOnews, a leading private television channel, went viral on social media, leading to criticism by some supporters of Afghanistan's Taliban authorities.
In the deeply conservative and patriarchal society, it is rare to see a man protest 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 only lead to crimes, poverty, and humiliation," he said.
Authorities say the ban on women attending university was imposed because they were not observing a strict Islamic dress code.
But Mashal, who also runs an educational institute 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, dressed in a black suit.
"The Taliban have so far not given any logical reason for the ban, which is affecting about 20 million girls."
The ban had no basis in Islamic sharia law, he added.
"The right to education for women has been given by God, by the Koran, by the Prophet (Mohammed), and our religion," said Mashal as he held religious books.
"So, why should we look down on women?"
While the Taliban promised a softer regime when they returned to power in August last year, they have instead imposed harsh restrictions on women -- effectively squeezing them out of public life.
Last week, authorities also ordered all aid groups to stop women 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 after the Taliban returned.
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?" AFP