The struggle against deeply entrenched misogyny in Afghanistan continues years after heavy international community and Afghan government investments in women’s education began, following the defeat of the Taliban at the hands of U.S.-led forces in 2001.
In highlighting the ongoing efforts to promote gender equality in Afghanistan, Salon reports on the savage March 19 murder of 27-year-old female Islamic studies student Farkhunda in Kabul.
She questioned the ethics of a mullah selling “charms” for financial gain in front of the Shah-Do Shamshera shrine in Kabul. Subsequently, the man reportedly accused her of burning the Quran, an allegation she immediately denied, saying she was a Muslim herself.
“The growing mob of men either did not hear or did not care to acknowledge her defense. While a number of police officers failed to intervene, the mob beat her with sticks and stones,” notes Salon. “Within a short time, she was dropped from a roof, run over with a car and finally set on fire.”
The U.S. alone has spent millions to develop and promote women’s rights in Afghanistan since it invaded the country in October 2001.
Although injustices against women continue, efforts in favor of education for women have also planted the seed for a “growing counterforce,” according to Salon.
“If Farkhunda’s savage murder reveals a virulent strain of misogyny in Afghan society, then the swift and passionate protests of women like Zahra [Ibrahimi] testify to a growing counterforce that some attribute to the expansion of women’s education over the last decade,” mentions the report.
In response to Farkhunda’s murder, 22-year-old Zahra Ibrahimi, identified as an artist and computer literacy teacher of girls in Kabul, and a group of friends publicly denounced the killing.
“She contacted her friends and on March 23 they painted their cheeks red to match the circulating photos and videos of Farkhunda’s bloody face,” reports Salon. “They made signs denouncing Farkhunda’s murder, and they joined hundreds to march from the shrine where Farkhunda was attacked to the banks of the river where she was burned.”
“On March 24 Zahra joined thousands of men and women holding banners and shouting for justice in front of the Afghan Supreme Court in Kabul,” it adds. “The tragedy had transported her from the front of the classroom to the forefront of the national news as photographs of her barred teeth, painted cheeks and raised fist appeared in the Washington Post, the Huffington Post and news outlets around the world.”
Speaking of the tragedy, Zahra reportedly said, “We felt if we did not protest, then no one would punish those men.”
Few people were reportedly satisfied with the outcome of the court proceedings against the alleged culprits of Farkhunda’s murder.
“After three days of court hearings, four people were found guilty (including the amulet seller who claimed Farkhunda had burned the Quran), and sentenced to death, charges against 18 men were dropped for lack of evidence, and eight others were sentenced to 16 years in prison,” reports Salon. “Of 19 policemen charged with dereliction of duty because they did not act to save Farkhunda, eight were acquitted due to lack of evidence, and 11 were sentenced to one year in prison.”
“Few people felt satisfied with the result, which, in a few short hours, seemed to both exonerate many of the guilty while condemning others without due process,” it adds. “Then in June the Appeals Court overturned the death sentences of all four men found guilty (giving three 20-year sentences and the other a one-year sentence), and released most of those convicted of Farkhunda’s murder ahead of their appeals.”
Farkhunda’s murder has instilled fear in women who support gender equality in Afghanistan.
“Kabul is becoming more dangerous,” Zahra said. “After Farkhunda’s murder and seeing that the murderers were not punished, men in Kabul became fearless and bold. Now many women who work for social change are depressed because they do not feel secure. They are afraid to make plans for the future. When we go to our jobs or to school, men harass us wherever we go because of what we do and how we dress. They say, ‘Don’t dress and act that way. Otherwise, we will do to you what we did to Farkhunda.’ We only feel secure in our homes.”