Afghan women are killed for demanding their rights: MADRE responds
Women in Afghanistan are routinely denied basic human rights, including education, healthcare, freedom from violence, and freedom of movement. Afghan women who fight to change this reality are attacked and even assassinated by ultra-conservatives.
Meanwhile, US airstrikes that kill civilians further endanger Afghan women and their families. They also increase the power of the Taliban and other reactionary forces as more Afghans turn to them for protection from the United States.
Each woman who is targeted and killed is meant to serve as a warning to any woman who would dare to stand up for her rights. Yet Afghan women continue to do just that. MADRE is supporting their courageous struggle through our Afghan Women’s Survival Fund.
Below, we profile a few of the women who have been killed or threatened for daring to demand their rights.
Sitara Achakzai spent the years of Taliban rule in Germany and returned to Afghanistan in 2004 to join women working to promote their human rights and struggling to secure peace. She became a member of Kandahar’s provincial council, using that position to advocate for women’s rights.
For International Women’s Day on March 8, 2009, she played a major role in organizing a national sit-in of more than 11,000 women in seven Afghan provinces. They were joined in this effort by women across the globe, who wore blue scarves in solidarity with the call for peace with justice.
On April 12, 2009, Sitara was gunned down in broad daylight in front of her home. As she stepped out of her car, four men on motorcycles drove by and opened fire. A Taliban spokesperson soon claimed responsibility. Just two weeks before, she had survived a suicide bomb attack on the provincial council building that left 13 people dead.
Safia Amajan fought for women’s rights in Afghanistan for decades and served as the head of the women’s department in Kandahar’s city government. She began her career as a teacher at girls’ schools. Her popularity as a teacher led people to refer to her as “Amajan” or “dear aunt,” a name that stuck to her.
She opened six schools in Kandahar, training over 1,000 women. Her fight to ensure the right of girls to attend school made her a target of the Taliban.
On September 25, 2006, Safia was gunned down while leaving her home by two men on motorcycles. A Taliban spokesperson later announced that she had been “executed.” Malalai Kakar, a woman who would later lose her life in much the same way, investigated her murder and said, “She was this wonderful person we heard about growing up in Kandahar. I made a point of meeting her and I took guidance from her.”
Malalai Kakar was Afghanistan’s most prominent policewoman, serving as the head of Kandahar’s department for crimes against women. She was the first woman to attend and graduate from the Kandahar Police Academy.
She had joined the police force in 1982, following her father and brothers. Malalai knew that her high profile made her a target. She survived multiple assassination attempts, once emerging from a shoot-out with three assassins. In reference to threatening letters regularly pinned to her front door at night, she said, “The notes say things like ‘Quit the force, or else.’ Of course, I won’t.”
On September 28, 2008, as Malalai left her home for work, she was shot in her car and died instantly. Her teenaged son was injured in the attack. After her death, a Taliban spokesperson announced, “We killed Malalai Kakar. She was our target, and we successfully eliminated our target.”
Shaima Rezayee became a pop culture icon for Afghan youth, as the host of “Hop,” a music show on a private television network. Her appearances on the show, often wearing make-up and without a burqa, drew the condemnation of conservatives.
When questioned by a journalist, Shaima warned, “Things are not getting better. We made some gains, but there are a lot of people who want to take it all back. They are not even the Taliban, they are here in Kabul. … The bad days are coming back, we’ll have to go into exile again.”
On May 18, 2005, Shaima was shot and killed in her home.
Zarghuna Kakar (no relation to Malalai Kakar), a member of the provincial council in Kandahar, has repeatedly requested additional security from the government, knowing that being a woman politician puts her life at risk. She turned to Afghan President Karzai’s brother for support, and she reports that he dismissed her saying that she “should have thought about what may happen before [she] stood for election.” Zarghuna was with her family in a market when they were attacked, and her husband was killed. She has now fled her home and is in hiding.
Suraya Pakzad founded the Voice of Women Organization in 1988, secretly teaching Afghan women to read and providing shelter from domestic violence. The organization emerged from the underground with the end of the Taliban regime, but today she warns of the resurgence of those forces.
Her own life has been threatened because of her work, and she worries for her safety everyday. In an interview, Suraya said, “I change routes to go to the office. I cannot share my schedule even with my friends, with my staff and even sometimes I’m not secure using the phone.”
Jamilla Mujahid Barzai, a member of the police force in Kandahar, was a colleague of Malalai Kakar. She decided to remain in Kandahar to continue her assassinated boss’s work. She remembers having witnessed a woman summarily executed by the Taliban in a soccer stadium, and these attacks on women have stiffened her resolve. She explains, “It is most important that now women try to get to positions of power to stop things like that happening again. It is dangerous. But we cannot go back to those days again.”