Rabia was 22 years old with a husband, two children, and another on the way. She had just begun her life when it was cut short by the hands of the Taliban, whose members publically executed her after she was accused of committing adultery by her husband.
This execution, commonly called an honor killing, immediately followed an informal court hearing that found Rabia guilty of the alleged moral crime. In accordance with Afghanistan law, which disbars members of the relatives from testifying, her family could only sit and watch.
Shakera, Rabia’s aunt, said, “They buried her without even allowing her family to participate in her funeral.”
Rabia’s children remain with their father, including her 3-year-old daughter who was informed of her mother’s death after finding her bloodied sandals in the yard of her home. Her 6-month-old son was still breastfeeding at the time and is now dependent on powdered baby formula, which the father’s family cannot afford. Rabia’s third and unborn child was killed with her in the execution.
“In situations like this, the victim’s family are also vulnerable and can even be at risk for raising their voice,” Samira Hamidi, a board member of Afghan Women’s Network, explained. “The Afghan government must provide them necessary protection in order to prevent any form of harm to them.”
Earlier last May, a video of another public killing–besides Rabia’s–went viral. A woman accused of killing her husband sits shrouded in a blue burqa, slouched on her knees with her back to a crowd of looming men. One has a rifle in his hand pointed directly at her back while others watch in eager anticipation, some shouting for her execution.
What ensued was reminiscent of state-sponsored public spectacles of the Roman Empire or the fictional horrors of the Hunger Games—everything we understand as unjust and barbaric. The woman was publicly tried and shot immediately by who is believed to be the district’s Taliban commander of the Jowzjan Province in Afghanistan.
It would be a relief to call these isolated incidents, but the story of these women is only the re-emergence of a practice that claimed the lives of women during the late 1990s and early 2000s during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Women were oftentimes executed in the national stadium located in Kabul.
“It is clear that militant groups like the Taliban have no pity on human beings, particularly women. The execution shows how powerless the Afghan government is, whilst significantly increasing the vulnerability of women,” Hamidi said.
The return of this practice may have been foreshadowed by the burning of Farkhunda in 2015, when she was beaten, dragged, and then lynched for allegedly burning the Qur’an.
Others claim that while the spotlight on honor killings did subside in the past few years, its presence never entirely disappeared.
“Except for major cities in the country, the Afghan military cannot get to rural areas where the Taliban still have a stronghold,” Manizha Naderi, the director of Women for Afghan Women, explained. “Enough people die from the ongoing violence, but the executions by the Taliban show their strength at the expense of women. Unless something like this happens in Kabul, there is no outrage from the locals.”
Whether or not this practice has resurfaced recently, it is a testament to the ever present struggle that women face in Afghanistan and is only one, albeit large, piece contributing to the overall inequality between them and Afghanistan’s male-dominated society.
While women have been granted rights such as receiving an education and being able to vote and work, they are continuously robbed of their most basic right—their right to safety.
Terrorist groups continue to threaten not only their independence, but also their sense of self; the fear of their actions and words being misconstrued or entirely fabricated remains a very real possibility that is accompanied by fatal consequences.
The responsibility to speak out, then, falls on the international community and their leaders to find a resolution.
The Prime Minister of Pakistan Muhammad Nawaz Sharif publicly addressed violence and discrimination against women this past February, stating, “There is no honor in honor killing. In fact there can be nothing more brutal than engaging in killing and calling it honor.”
Yet in a hypocritical fashion, the government of Pakistan continues to funnel money into Afghanistan, which itself has made a negligible effort to end the practice, and to the Taliban itself.
The United Nations has also largely left the conversation. Aside from scant reports and statistics, the organization has made minimal effort to mobilize the country and its women. NATO slowly withdrew its presence in the nation after 2011, when foreign military transferred control to the local security forces, which have also lagged over the past few years.
However, it is said that situations worsen before they improve and that not all hope in Afghanistan’s government is lost.
But in a world of evils, which innocents do we choose to save first?