Thousands of Women Protest After Nine-Year-Old Girl Beheaded by Terrorists

The Afghanistan massacre of seven civilians, including three children, inspired protests on the streets of Kabul this week. We talked to two experts about the changing role of women in the ongoing crisis.

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Nov 13 2015, 3:55pm

Photo by Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images

The partially decapitated bodies of seven Hazara civilians were dumped on the side of the road in Afghanistan. Two of the people killed were women; three were children, one only nine years old. The militant organization behind their deaths has yet to be identified, but the United Nations have condemned the killings as "potential war crimes." The seven victims were abducted a month ago and killed between November 6 and 8. Their deaths inspired 10,000 Afghans to march through the streets of Kabul yesterday, toward the palace of Afghan president Mohammad Ashraf Ghani. Thousands of women were in the crowd.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the protest was mostly peaceful, with demonstrators expressing outrage and calling for justice instead of violence. Many held banners depicting the image of the women who were killed. There were signs demanding the resignation of President Ghani, whom many believe has failed to protect Afghanistan from the violence wrought by militant organizations like the Taliban and ISIS.

The government will be busy trying to diffuse the problems among ethnic groups and the Taliban can take advantage of this and take over more of Afghanistan.

"The militants, or terrorists as I like to call them, want to divide the country," says Manizha Naderi, the executive director of the grassroots civil society organization, Women for Afghan Women. "By targeting Hazaras, they are trying to ignite hurt feelings from the past." The Taliban infamously terrorized the ethnic group throughout the 1990s, massacring their people. Naderi says that by killing Hazara women and children in 2015, "they are hoping that fighting between Hazaras and Pashtuns [another Afghan ethnic group] would start."

"If civil war starts in Afghanistan among different ethnic groups, this will be a win win scenario for the Taliban," she explains. "The government will be busy trying to diffuse the problems among ethnic groups and the Taliban can take advantage of this and take over more of Afghanistan."

Michael Kugelman is the senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center, a Congress-chartered organization that "is the nation's key non-partisan policy forum for tackling global issues." He notes that the massacring of these seven Hazaras may be part of a separate conflict. "In Afghanistan, you have many disaffected members of the Taliban throwing their allegiances to ISIS," he says. "The parent Taliban is trying to reduce these defections."

Kugelman says that the seven civilians were killed by pro-ISIS terrorists who likely, "want to prove their bonafides to the ISIS organization, which is even more brutal than the Taliban and tends to be more sectarian-focused. Beheading seven Shias [most Hazaras are Shia Muslim]—including several women and children—is sadly a great way to prove your worth to the ISIS powers that be. Even the Taliban, no stranger to savage brutality, has not beheaded young children and women in this way."

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But if, as Naderi suspects, the militants' objective was to divide ethnic groups in Afghanistan, she also believes they failed. 10,000 people from an array of ethnic backgrounds gathered to protest in Kabul, calling for action against terror in the wake of these murders. "Yes, it did bring people of all ethnicities together," Naderi says. "Yesterday we saw Hazaras, Tajiks and Pashtuns walk together, shoulder to shoulder, to demand justice."

It also inspired Afghan women to speak out. There were thousands of women at Wednesday's protest. "It was very hopeful when I saw the women were on the streets protesting alongside the men," Naderi adds. "It shows progress... This kind of action would not have been possible a decade ago."

"Ten years ago, Afghanistan and Afghan women have just come out of a government that was run by the Taliban where women's education and participation in anything in public life was banned. Women were in prison in their own house. If they went out of the house without a male relative, they were beaten by the Taliban." Now they stand in public protest against terrorist, militant groups.

People of all genders and ethnicities were on the street demanding justice.

Kugelman echoes Naderi's point that Afghan women have come a long way in the last two decades. "This visible presence of women on the front lines of political action is a powerful reminder of how things have improved in Afghanistan in recent years, despite all the problems. During the Taliban era in the 1990s, such sights were nonexistent."

Attacks by terrorist groups make life unsafe for Afghan women, but that isn't their only concern. Women live with multiple injustices in modern Afghanistan. "The biggest problem being violence against women, forced, underage marriages, and insecurity," Naderi says. These issues, and those facing Afghan women ten plus years ago, are what inspired her organization to work for the betterment of women's lives. "Women for Afghan Women is the largest women's organization in Afghanistan," she says. "We work in across 13 provinces and we provide family mediation, legal aid, and shelter for women and girls who have experienced human rights violations."

Naderi says that so many women are protesting terrorism today because, "people are more empowered [than they once were. They] demand their rights, and demand action from their government. People of all genders and ethnicities were on the street demanding justice. The people have spoken and have shown clearly that the Taliban will not force them into a war [of] ethnicities."

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As for President Ghani, Naderi says things in Afghanistan have gone from bad to worse since he took office. "Bottom line is, when something goes wrong in a country, the government is held responsible and people demand that the government take action in protecting the population. This is what people want. they want to be protected so that they can live peacefully in their own country. President Ghani needs to get serious about fighting the Taliban. He should publicly admit that the Taliban are terrorists and that the government will do everything they can to rid the country of terrorism."

Kugelman thinks that Ghani means well and that he wants the increasing violence in Afghanistan to diminish. The problem, according to Kugelman, is the state and not its leader: "The Afghan state's writ does not extend much beyond Kabul." One of the central issues facing the Afghan government is its own lack of control over the country, and the difficulty to develop central security organizations. "It has outsourced security to non-state militias that end up causing more security problems than they solve, given that these militias and warlords tend to be quite violent themselves. Militants, from the Taliban to more recently ISIS, have taken advantage of this vacuum, and the lawlessness it spawns, to wreak havoc in a big way."