A recent video of a Taliban fighter executing a woman in a small town in Afghanistan’s Parwan Province last month has sparked outrage, but our Observer on the ground says the footage finally sheds light on the kind of violence women in the country’s rural areas often face.
The video opens on a woman draped in a greyish shawl, sitting alone in the middle of a rocky landscape, her back to her executioner. Hoisting a rifle on one arm, a man aims it at the woman, just a handful of paces away, and shoots nine times. On the third shot, her body tumbles backwards, and she lies heaped on the ground.
Because of the disturbing nature of the footage, the Observers Team has chosen to only publish screen grabs of the video showing the execution. To watch the video, click here.
The woman in the video, identified by authorities as Najiba, was executed because she had allegedly committed adultery. While there are varying accounts of the story, a government spokesperson for Parwan Province has said that the 22 year-old woman was married to a member of the hardline Islamist movement, the Taliban. Accused of having had an affair with a Taliban commander, Najiba was judged and then shot to death before a crowd of onlookers in the town of Qol. In the video, the villagers can be heard cheering after her execution.
Qol is located in Parwan Province’s Shinwari district, which was once considered relatively safe, even for foreigners, but has since come under increasing Taliban influence.
The video sparked widespread outrage, prompting President Hamid Karzai to launch a manhunt to track down Najiba’s killer, who had reportedly fled into the mountains with other Taliban members. General John Allen, head of NATO’s operation in Afghanistan, also offered to help local security forces capture those responsible for what he labelled, “an atrocity of unspeakable cruelty”.
Najiba’s killing comes as concerns over women’s rights in the country mount ahead of NATO’s planned 2014 troop withdrawal. Shortly before the video surfaced, US Secretary Hillary Clinton voiced her fears over the issue, saying, “The United States believes strongly that no nation can achieve peace, stability and economic growth if half the population is not empowered”.

“Women in rural areas have no rights and no power to protect themselves”

Zarlasht Waziri works for the Afghanistan Women Council, where she provides psychological support to women in Parwan Province.
Killings like the one seen in the video appear to be less common, but they are still happening and they are very brutal. They don’t happen so much in cities, where women are aware they have access to media and know that the West will sympathise with them and support them, which deters these kinds of aggressions. A lot of these injustices happen in rural areas, where they go largely unreported and are mostly dealt with on a very local level.
Women in the countryside have no rights and no power to protect themselves. They are so repressed by the men, by the Taliban and by the fundamentalists, that no one can hear their voices. These women who are being raped, killed and abused need to have access to the justice system and need to be listened to. But unfortunately this is not happening. When the troop pull out happens in 2014, the situation will definitely get worse day by day all over the country because that will mean there will be less of a Western presence here.
Even if the killing was an isolated event, there are other issues plaguing the region. Karzai has done little to improve women’s rights so far. Education is still a major problem and the growing use of drugs has also become a mounting issue over the last 11 years since the war began. Many of the women we see in Parwan Province are either widows or have husbands who are struggling with addiction, and it has become a big problem for families. Women are not taught to support themselves nor even know, let alone stand up for, their rights.
I think Karzai’s decision to launch a manhunt for the woman’s killer is mostly a media campaign. If he’s hiding in the mountains, it will be very hard for them to find him. Even if they do there’s still a chance that he might get away because the authorities are corrupt and can be easily bribed. But we can hope for the best.