Women Targeted in the Escalating Violence in Afghanistan

In a wave of assassinations in Afghanistan, this week four women media workers and a gynecologist alongside her daughter were attacked in Jalalabad. Mursal Wahidi, 25, Sadia Sadat, 20, and Shahnaz Raofi, 20, were shot dead on their way home from work. Their fourth colleague was wounded. The four women worked for a local radio and TV network. In December 2020, a well-known journalist and presenter, Malalai Maiwand, 26, who worked for the same radio and tv network was also gunned down on her way to work. These are only a few of the women gone too soon. 

Women Targeted in the Escalating Violence in Afghanistan
Afghan women in a United Nations literacy course
(United Nations Photo / Flickr)

Since the signing of the peace deal between the U.S. and the Taliban in February of 2020, a new chapter of violence has opened in Afghanistan. The nature of violence has changed from mass suicide attacks to unprecedented levels of targeted killings of media workers, journalists, civil servants, members of civil society, NGO workers, health workers and advocates of human rights. Many of these attacks are unclaimed and the Afghan government has so far been unable to stop the assassinations or bring the perpatrators to justice. 

Major suicide attacks and bomb explosions continue to terrorize Afghans, but to a lesser extent. The Afghan people could avoid places likely to be the targets of suicide attacks, but with the new tactic, it’s impossible to predict who is next, leading to a rise in fear and uncertainty.

In response to the latest attacks on women and human rights defenders, Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, stated, “The high level of violence is not only against the spirit of peace talks, but is obviously being used as leverage at the bargaining table by the Taliban. For peace to be achieved, the violence must stop.”

Although the government does not provide an exact list of the assassinations, according to the New York Times tally more than 136 civilians and 168 Afghan security forces have been murdered in such killings over the past year. The security forces were either targeted off duty or on their way to work. 

Based on a recent UNAMA report that records civilian casualties, the level of violence increased when the intra-Afghan peace talks began in September of last year. The report indicated that the overall level of violence in 2020 was down compared to 2019, but the level of violence was the highest between the months of September and December that it has ever been. 

At the start of the Afghan peace process, there was hope that leaders would come to a compromise to best serve their country and the nation. However, the high level of violence in the past year has resulted in a lack of trust in the peace process and a deteriorating hope for a lasting peace in the country. 

The U.S. signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February 2020 under the Trump leadership, in which the Taliban committed to not attack Americans or their interests in Afghanistan. The agreement did not include the same protections for the Afghan people. The U.S.-Taliban deal has been viewed significantly flawed by many and is currently under review by the Biden administration. While we await the result of the review, the Afghan people hope that the Biden administration will do right by them and use its leverage in the ongoing talks for a just, practical, inclusive and real peace in Afghanistan. 

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Makhfi Azizi is the director of the Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls at the Feminist Majority Foundation. She has been working with the foundation in this capacity for two years and works on issues of human rights, peace and security. Makhfi is dedicated to women’s equality, peace and democracy.