Sad news arrived this morning via my friend, photographer Paula Lerner. Having recently come back from a trip to Afghanistan, both in Kandahar and Kabul she sent an email this morning describing the news of the murder of Sitkara Achakzi, a female member of the provincial council in Kandahar. Paula had blogged about her during her time in Kandahar a couple of weeks ago. Murders and assassinations are happening all the time in Afghanistan – this is easily one more that slips through our consciousness as another unfortunate happening in a troubled, war torn region of the world.
What makes this so heartbreaking to me is that this is one of many great women in positions of power and influence in Afghanistan that are willingly putting their lives at risk daily in an attempt to reclaim their country, build a stronger community, and further entrench their own rights to gender equality. Sitkara Achakzi was assassination walking home from work and was shot outside her front door by two men on motorbike, blame being placed on “enemies of Afghanistan”, another term for Islamist Taliban insurgents.
The same “enemies of Afghnistan”, were also blamed for an attack in Kandahar in November in which acid was sprayed into the faces of schoolgirls. This attack happened during my first visit to Afghanistan and served to illustrate just how much risk girls and women are willing to take to receive an education.
A month earlier, Taliban gunmen in the city shot dead the most high-profile female police officer in Afghanistan.
Yet women still work in positions of power in and out of government, pushing back against those that wish a return to burqas and house restrictions. These women are courageous beyond my own imagining. When just walking out your front door to go to work courts assassinations, it makes me treasure the freedoms I have. Being able to not just walk, but run and bike to work, scantily clad by Afghan standards, without risk is an amazing gift.
Simply by the luck of geography and the miracle of timing, I was born into a country and era that ensures relative equality between genders. I enjoy the freedom to choose my career, where I live, take part in competitive sports, even the choice of who to love is mine to make without fear or reprisal. It is humbling to go about my daily routine as I prepare for a return visit to Kabul in less than 48 hours.
When I was in Afghanistan last November, I was priviledged to sit down with two amazing women. The first, Minister of Education, Dr. Massouda Jalal, who has run against President Karzai twice, and the second was Dr. Roshanek Wardak Parliamentary member representing Taliban controlled Wardak province. These women are exposing themselves every day to great risk in order to push forward reforms in their country. They believe in the future of a free Afghanistan and are willing to risk life and limb to be part of that future. I can only hope that despite their high profile and high risk I won’t see their names in a news headline like Sitkara Achakzi’s anytime soon.
My heart goes out to all of those who have lost courageous women. Families and friends will mourn their losses for years to come, but so will the community members and citizens that have lost great activists and leaders through these senseless killings.