Fighting for Women’s Rights at Kabul University

When I was at Kabul University, I studied Social Sciences and one of my classes was Islamic Civilization. The professor was a very religious man and whenever he entered the class, he demanded that the women students cover ourselves with our scarves and not wear makeup. He explained that if men saw us they would lose control, it would be our fault, and the men would go to hell.

He told us that if a man’s eyes gazed at our breasts he would go to hell. He also said that if he had the power to do so, he would separate the co-ed classes. He believed that Islam forbids the sexes from studying together because they might become attracted to one another and begin relationships. It seemed that my classmates—both male and female—fervently supported his ideas.

Arguing for rights

I, on the other hand, argued with him. I reminded the teacher that Islam gives women rights. I told him that he doesn’t have the right to insult women or to impose his personal ideas in the name of Islam. I reminded him of women’s activities and sacrifices when our religion was born. The first person martyred in the name of Islam was a woman!

I prepared a presentation on the role of women in Islam and explained that women had a very important and active role in advancing the religion. I quoted verses from the Qur’an by the Prophet of Islam. For example, the Qur’an said that wives and girls have the same right as sons with regard to property and that seeking knowledge is the obligation of both men and women. All girls have the right to pick their own life partner and cannot be forced into marriage.

No one supported me. The girls told me that since he was our professor, we must respect him no matter what he says. I felt they didn’t want to stand up for their rights because they were afraid of failing the class. 

I argued with them. I said the teacher was wrong about women’s rights and shared the views of the Taliban, but I was unable to convince them. Some women even said that they accepted what the men were saying about them, even if they insulted us as women. I felt that they simply did not want to strain their relationship with the boys and possibly put themselves in jeopardy.

Turning against me

The boys had the same ideas about girls as our professor. My male classmates called me a very loud and pushy girl, and all of them turned against me. Some of them—who knew the professor’s ideas about women were wrong—advised me not to argue with him or he would fail me on my exams. 

They said the other professors would also support him, because he is their co-worker, and I was just a student without any power. They barely spoke to me anymore but I didn’t give up. I continued to argue with our professor.

One day when he came in to the class, he asked the girls to cover their hair or leave. No girl could attend without covering her hair.

Everyone covered their hair, but I told him that while I accept hijab in Islam and respect it, he could not make me cover my hair. I told him that it is my personal decision whether I cover my hair. I said that this is my class as well and no one has the right to tell me leave the class.

Standing my ground

All eyes turned to me. Every one gave me the evil eye. Our professor got mad and accused me of working for some foreign agency that would provoke me to talk against Islam.

I only smiled bitterly and told him, “I really regret that you believe such nonsense. This was my reaction against you, not Islam. I’m also a Muslim. It’s your knowledge of Islam that I judge. I believe that you men repress women and use Islam as a tool to wield your power over us.”

Our debate continued until the end of class and then he left. One of my classmates said that I should have not disrespected him. He told me that I must go and apologize. My response was that I was only defending my rights. I had not done anything wrong, I would not apologize.

By Sitara 

This story continues in part 2.


  1. Very beautiful and brave act. Girls like you make me proud. Good luck Sitara jan and more power to you!

  2. Elizabeth Titus says:

    Dear Sitara,
    Way to go! You spoke the truth, and even though no one wanted to hear you, you never gave up. It is young women like you who will lead your country out of the dark ages.

    All the best,

  3. Dearest Sitara: I am so proud of you. I know that to speak up as you have–and continue to do–is risky, but it is important, it is brave, and it is the way of the leader. Thank you for not hiding what is in your heart, and for standing up for your rights. Thank you for sharing your story so eloquently with us here. Praying for your continued courage, and for the wisdom to know when it is best to speak up and when it is best to wait–and then speak up! Sending you hugs from New York City!


  4. Dear Sitara, congratulations for your courage to express your thoughts about women’s rights. The world needs more people like you.

  5. A A Walker says:

    You, determined lady in the Middle East, have guts. How’s is it working out for you now, I wonder, at the university?

  6. Connie Crowder says:

    Hi Sitara, let me start by congratulate you for standing up for your beliefs. It takes a very strong person to stand against the majority and speak their mind. When I was younger my mother participated in a religion similar to the Muslim religion, Penicostle. It is a denomination drawn from Christianity. This religion required for women to wear similar garmets over their body and face to prevent men from being lustful. They were not allowed to wear ear rings, make-up, pants, chemical in their hair and nail polish. They did not believe in birth control for women and condoms for men. They taught their followers that it was God’s will to reproduce. Believing everything they said, my mother was a firm believer. Even though alot of the things they taught was misinterpreted from the Bible, she believed with all her heart. Ater her fifth child she decided that she could not physically bare to give birth again so she decided to stand against what her religion taught and got her doctors to tie her tubes. As a result of the religion’s belief to multiply my father and mother stuggled to care for us. Eventually my dad end up leaving my mother. He later told me that he began to find her physicall unattractive and could not bare to go another day struggling. Since then my mother only goes so far with her church. She still believes in God, however, she is careful about what she listens to. She spend more time reading the Bible herself than listening to someone else interpret the Bible. I think sometimes people put too much faith in others (what others teach them) then in the God they serve themselves. College is supposed to be a place that openly excepts diversity. You are different from your peers and you are being punished for it. But there is nothing wrong with being different. My God tells his followers in the Bible that every man is responsible for his own salvation. So with that being said don’t just listen to what your religious leader tells you, rather read the Koran, study it until you interpret what you think it means and stand by your opinion.

  7. Susannah says:

    Brava, Sitara! It’s wonderful to see this brave story about a brave woman up here for all of us to read.

  8. Elisabeth says:

    Sitara jan,
    This is a wonderful and inspiring story. I am requiring my students in my Dimensions of Freedom class to read both parts of your essay this week.

    Wonderful work

  9. Mary Stachyra says:

    You are a trailblazer! I admire your courage!

  10. Philip Levitt says:

    The biggest flaw in most religions is not God . It is the fallible human beings who set themselves up to speak in the name of the religion. Many are fools. Interestingly enough, you found that your professor contradicted the Q’uran in order to subjugate women. His sacrilege is despicable. Good writing!!

  11. Dear Readers,
    Thanks for all of you and I appreciate your encouragement and comments.

  12. Bravo, Sitara! You have gone back to the essential ideas of Islam, before it was corrupted by power-hungry and ignorant people.Y ou are very brave, and the world needs more people like you. You are a heroine and a trailblazer!

  13. Dear Sitara,

    If you look back at the history, it has usually taken one person to bring a change that would be remembered for the generations to come. I salute you for your courage and specially for you knowledge of the true Islamic teachings about women. There is a reason why women are banned from education. They are allowed to read the Quran but not the meaning, because they know that if women came to know about the rights that they are bestowed by Islam they may no longer remain under opression. Moreover, in Afghanistan culture carries more weight than the actual Islamic teachings. As for those female classmates who were supporting the professor, it is because that is how they are brought up, that is how they are brainwashed that men are superior to them and they may not dare speak up. This happens, when, starting very young, they are asked to pay respect to their brothers regardless if they receive back the same respect, clean up for their brothers. So you see it is a mesh up of culture and Islam which can only be fixed by education. I am very very proud of you. You are one smart and Intelligent girl. You are going to shine bright one day.


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