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Women assassinations

Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi December 11, 2012

The number of killed Afghan women activists continues to rise, following another assassination on Monday. DW spoke with Orzala Ashraf Nemat, a leading human rights activist in Afghanistan, about the development.

Afghanistan Orzala Ashraf Nemat Copyright: Orzala Ashraf Nemat
Image: Orzala Ashraf Nemat

DW: You and your colleague have published a report on Afghan women who have been killed in Afghanistan over the past years. What was your main intention for profiling these women?

Ashraf Nemat: We have been frustrated with how the Afghan government has approached these incidents - as if they were some ordinary killings that occur everyday. First of all, no single Afghan life should be treated this way. Secondly, none of these women were ordinary women; they served Afghans under the Afghanistan flag. So it was important to show who they were. A key goal of the report was to delve into their biographies. We also made an attempt to analyze the perpetrators of these crimes. We're calling on the international community, the Afghan government and, more importantly, the Afghan people not to remain silent when these incidents happen. It's a general call for justice, a reminder that these brave women sacrificed their lives for a great cause.

Najia Siddiqi, the acting director of Provincial Women's Affairs in Laghman, was killed on Monday while travelling in a rickshaw. She didn't have proper protection or bodyguards. Why does the Afghan government fail to protect women leaders?

From what we see, there is no political commitment or will to follow up these particular 10 cases. Most of the women were highly respected in their communities. We strongly believe that we would just be fooling ourselves and our people by expressing condolences to their families. More practical measures to ensure the security and safety of women are necessary. They deserve to be protected if they represent the Afghan government or express themselves as journalists or independent activists.

As you point out in your report, Afghanistan's society is rooted deeply in traditions and ancient customs. It will take years to change the mindsets of the Afghan people. Yet many women in the country today actively seek more rights. Are they fighting a losing battle?

Indeed, Afghan society is traditional as so many societies around the world are. None of assassinated women pursued radical approaches and tried to turn Afghan society upside down. They were highly respected by other Afghans. At least two of them, Sitara Achakzai from Kandahar and Hanifa Safi from Laghman, were elected members of the provincial council. Both of them were elected, meaning they had the support of ordinary people. The unfortunate fact is that ordinary people are not aware of their own power. When they see the warlords and armed men, they're frightened. And that fear probably keeps them from protecting the leaders they elect.  That's why this report emphasizes the responsibility the Afghan people have. They need to be aware that they share responsibility in protecting their own leaders by calling for justice.

You are also a women's human rights activist in Afghanistan. You are currently living abroad to complete your studies but travel to your home country frequently. During these trips, do you feel in danger?

I am very conscious of every step that I take and every route I travel. But I'm not the only one who is prepared. Every single woman and girl in Afghanistan who leaves her home to study or work is a target. But they are determined not to give up and to continue and struggle.

Fortunately, you have been spared any incidents of this kind. If, however, something were to happen to you, what would you expect of the Afghan government and its people?

Something could happen. Like many other women in Afghanistan, I'm ready for it. My message in that case would be the same one that I'm trying to convey now; namely, that the shame of killing me or anybody fighting for a good cause is shared not only by the person who actually commits this crime but also by all the other stakeholders involved. It will be shared by those who are protecting themselves in senior government positions. It will be shared by the international community for not holding governments responsible for maintaining a judiciary system. It will be shared by some of us who claim to support human rights yet keep silent. My message is that this struggle can't be postponed. It is a struggle that began centuries back and continues today. That is the message that I want to convey to the government of Afghanistan and all those who are trying to silence us.

Orzala Ashraf Nemat is a human rights activist and an emerging scholar. She is currently a doctoral candidate at SOAS (UK) and holds a master of science in development planning from the University of Central London.