(WOMENSENEWS)– On March 19, a day before Nowruz, the Afghan new year, a woman called Farkhunda — no other name for her has been provided –was beaten to death by a mob of men. Then her body was burned and thrown into the Kabul River.
She was 27. She was unmarried and without children. She had finished a degree in religious studies and was preparing to take a teaching post. Her parents have taken her name, Farkhunda, as their family name to honor her.
The killing of Farkhunda unnerved all of us who work for women’s rights in Afghanistan. Many of my Afghan brothers and sisters have not had the heart to celebrate the new year. Some have said, "for the first time I am ashamed to call myself Afghan."
But our initial despondence has transformed into collective outrage and activism. During the last few days, I have seen the explosion of grief on my Facebook wall. Hour by hour, the posts got louder and angrier; grief turned to outrage.
Videos of the funeral procession for Farkhunda offer an unprecedented show of sisterhood. It was Afghan women — not men — who shouldered the weight of her coffin. This is the traditional duty of men. But how could women let men carry her coffin, when it was a mob of male strangers who believed a (false) rumor that Farkhunda had burned a Quran and punished her with such horrific torture and murder?
Protests and Vigils
More protests and vigils are being held.
Protests took place earlier Tuesday, March 24, in Kabul in front of Supreme Court at 11 a.m. local time. In Washington, D.C, a candlelight vigil will be held tonight at 7:30 pm at Dupont Circle.
On Thursday, March 26, an evening vigil is planned in New York City at Foley Square at 6 pm.
Over the past decade we have grown used to reading about suicide bombings, shootings, kidnappings and horrific abuse of women in Afghanistan.
My organization, Women for Afghan Women, is a 14-year-old human rights organization which addresses the most egregious abuses of women. We have fought for justice for many women and girls whose stories made it to the international press; Bibi Aisha, Mumtaz, Sahar Gul, Gul Meena, Brishna. We have fought for many thousands more whose stories few ever knew about.
Why have I not been able to sleep after this killing of Farkhunda? Why does this case seem different?
Part of the reason is timing. I was in Kabul a week ago, showing five American supporters of Women for Afghan Women the work we do that is made possible by their generous donations.
We walked right by the Kabul River where this brutal attack and killing took place.
Our Work Continues
Our staff is still there, 650 Afghan men and women who daily, courageously, take up the battles for justice of women and children who have no other recourse. We were a little afraid for ourselves, but so much more afraid for our sisters and brothers who would stay in their homeland, fighting for what is right. However, even in our worst fears, we didn’t imagine this; that a mob of regular Afghan men and boys could be propelled to such barbaric violence.
The fight has always been against the Taliban and other extremist forces, the more extremist factions of the government; more recently Afghans have expressed fear of the presence of Daesh (ISIS) in Afghanistan. We have always expressed our faith in the larger society. We have always felt that the Afghan youth is hungry for change, for progress, for education.
But the men who killed Farkhunda are not Taliban. They are regular Afghan men. They are the youth. This was not meant to happen.
Women for Afghan Women Executive Director Manizha Naderi states this: "We are witnessing the women’s movement in Afghanistan. Women will not take anything lying down! They will fight until their last breath! Out of this horrible tragedy, we see hope, change and progress."
The five female supporters who just traveled with me to Kabul made the almost-20 hour journey to see first-hand the work of this organization they love.
These women had to persuade and assuage friends and families who opposed them traveling to Afghanistan for safety reasons.
"Why are you going?" one of our supporters was asked. She had to really think about it. Why was she risking travel to a war zone? She answered quietly that she wanted the women to know that they were important enough for someone like her to come all the way here just to tell them she cares.
"I think maybe if they know that, their resilience will be a little increased. That’s all."
It helps me so much to remember these words. The women of Afghanistan, and all who participate in the struggle
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