The woman who defied the Taliban, and paid with her life

Women's rights campaigner in Afghanistan shot dead
One in two Afghan women a victim of violence
Suicide on the rise as Taliban's power increases

Safia Amajan promoted women's education and work - a fairly ordinary job in most places - but in the Afghanistan of a resurgent Taliban it was a dangerous path to follow. She was a target, and yesterday she was gunned down outside her home.

Five years after the "liberation" of Afghanistan by the US and Britain, with promises of a new dawn for its downtrodden women, her murder was a bloody reminder of just how far the country is slipping back into a land of darkness.

Public figures, including the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, lined up to praise Ms Amajan.

Yet this support was signally lacking while she lived. The former teacher worked in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, and also the place where women have faced the most virulent discrimination and mistreatment. It is also where Nato forces are fighting a ferocious insurgency. Ms Amajan had asked for, and been refused, a protective vehicle, or bodyguards, despite repeated death threats.

She was in a battered taxi when two gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire with automatic rifles. Her nephew, Farhad Jan, said: "She died on the spot. There was no time to give her treatment." In a place of fear where one can sign one's death warrant with the wrong choice of words, Farhad was careful not to blame anyone for the killing. All he would say was: "We had no personal enmity with anyone."

A Taliban commander, Mullah Hayat Khan, declared that Ms Amajan had been "executed". He said: "We have told people again and again that anyone working for the government, and that includes women, will be killed."

Ms Amajan had taken over the post of women's welfare officer soon after Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, fled with the fall of his regime. With the return of the Taliban, as the "war on terror" moved on to Iraq, aid workers - foreign and Afghan, men and women - were intimidated into leaving the region.

Ms Amajan was one of the few who refused to flee. Her secretary, Abdullah Khan, said: "She was very brave. She was also very hard-working. She was always trying her best to improve education for women."

As well as defying the Taliban, Ms Amajan made the mistake of being successful in what she was doing. In Kandahar alone she had opened six schools where a thousand women had learnt how to make and then sell their goods at the market. She was also instrumental in setting up tailoring schools for women, with some of the products making their way to markets in the West.

At the official end of the Afghan war, America's first lady, Laura Bush, was among those who declared that one of the most important achievements of overthrowing the Taliban was emancipation of women. However, since then female social workers and teachers have been maimed and killed, girls' schools shut down and female workers forced to give up their jobs. The few women out in the streets in Kandahar and other places in the south are covered in burqas. A report by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission spoke of the "systematic and violent campaign" directed against women.

Statistics paint a bleak picture of women's lives with 35 female suicides in Kandahar alone and nearly 200 attempted suicides in the Herat region - one third of which were successful. Rights groups estimate that between 60 and 80 per cent of marriages in the country are forced. And the majority of those marriages involve girls under the age of 16.

Ms Amajan's funeral yesterday, in a Shia ceremony, was attended by the provincial governor and hundreds of mourners, including tribal elders. In Kabul, President Karzai said: "The enemies of Afghanistan are trying to kill those people who are working for the peace and prosperity of Afghanistan. The enemies of Afghanistan must understand that we have millions of people like Amajan."

Fariba Ahmedi, a female member of parliament, who attended the burial, said: "Those enemies who have killed her should know it will not derail women from the path we are on. We will continue on our way."

Human rights groups point out, however, that the battle for women's rights is in serious danger of being lost. There are now entire provinces where there is no girls' education; of the 300 schools shut or burnt down, the majority were for girls. The death rate at childbirth is the second highest in the world, and the number of women who have committed suicide, mainly through self-immolation, has risen by 30 per cent in two years.

Life gets worse for Afghan women

Violence

* 50 per cent of Afghan women say they have been beaten, while 200 women in Kandahar ran away from domestic violence this year.

* In the past year, 150 cases of women resorting to self-immolation have been reported in western Afghanistan, 34 cases in the south-east.

* 197 women in Herat were reported to have attempted suicide last year, 69 successfully.

* 57 per cent of girls are married before the legal age of 16.

Education

* 85 per cent of women in Afghanistan are illiterate.

* The number of girls going to school in Afghanistan is half that of boys.

* 300 schools were set on fire across the country this year.

Health

* 70 per cent of tuberculosis deaths are among women.

* Death rate of mothers in labour is 60 in 1000 - (60 per cent higher than developed world).

* Only 5-7 per cent of women in Zabul and Helmand province have access to health care.

Voting

* 41 per cent of the 10.5 million registered voters are women. Women's registration rates in southern provinces were much lower than the national average: Zabul (9 per cent), Uruzgan (10 per cent) Helmand (16 per cent), and Kandahar (27 per cent)

Source: AIHRC, UNICEF, HRW

Arts and Entertainment
books
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
people
Voices
Nigel Farage arrives for a hustings event at The Oddfellows Hall in Ramsgate on Tuesday
voicesA defection that shows who has the most to fear from the rise of Ukip
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Life and Style
Brave step: A live collection from Alexander McQueen whose internet show crashed because of high demand
fashionAs the collections start, Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Teacher

£22000 - £33000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: ICT TeacherLeedsRandstad ...

Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL) Su...

Junior SQL DBA (SQL Server 2012, T-SQL, SSIS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior SQL DBA...

C# Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, MVC-4, HTML5) London

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Web Develop...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution