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Lives on the line: Stories of women human rights defenders in Afghanistan

    Najiba Ayubi has been at the forefront of Afghan journalism for almost three decades, and today heads one of the country’s largest media groups, Killid. Her outspokenness has come with a cost – she has faced harassment and threatening phone calls throughout her career, and a few years ago had to pretend to be someone else when gunmen showed up at her door following a report criticizing two MPs.
    Najiba Ayubi has been at the forefront of Afghan journalism for almost three decades, and today heads one of the country’s largest media groups, Killid. Her outspokenness has come with a cost – she has faced harassment and threatening phone calls throughout her career, and a few years ago had to pretend to be someone else when gunmen showed up at her door following a report criticizing two MPs.
    Shariefa Shahab, investigator at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Herat, gathers information in a local prison.
    Shariefa Shahab, investigator at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Herat, gathers information in a local prison.
    Mozhgan Entazar runs a small organization fighting to improve the pay and standards for women working in factories in Herat. Here she is speaking to a local Imam who shares an office with her.
    Mozhgan Entazar runs a small organization fighting to improve the pay and standards for women working in factories in Herat. Here she is speaking to a local Imam who shares an office with her.
    Three students at Rana University in Kabul take time to relax between lectures. Advances in the education of women and girls in Afghanistan have been hard-won but they remain fragile.
    Three students at Rana University in Kabul take time to relax between lectures. Advances in the education of women and girls in Afghanistan have been hard-won but they remain fragile.
    Demonstration in Kabul by civil society organizations against the sexual harrassment of girls and women in Afghanistan.
    Demonstration in Kabul by civil society organizations against the sexual harrassment of girls and women in Afghanistan.
    Jawad Sadat is a university law professor with a human rights specialism, who is also constantly in demand for interviews by local media about women’s rights. He uses his multiple public platforms to raise awareness with local communities about the rights of women and girls.
    Jawad Sadat is a university law professor with a human rights specialism, who is also constantly in demand for interviews by local media about women’s rights. He uses his multiple public platforms to raise awareness with local communities about the rights of women and girls.
    Fawzia Nawabi, investigator at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Mazar-e-Sharief, shares stories at a shelter for women at risk.
    Fawzia Nawabi, investigator at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Mazar-e-Sharief, shares stories at a shelter for women at risk.
    Aziza Khairandish responds to a call about a case where a woman’s nose and ears were cut off by her husband, who is now on the run – Aziza is trying to get the authorities to take action.
    Aziza Khairandish responds to a call about a case where a woman’s nose and ears were cut off by her husband, who is now on the run – Aziza is trying to get the authorities to take action.
    Najiba Ayubi has been at the forefront of Afghan journalism for almost three decades, and today heads one of the country’s largest media groups, Killid. Her outspokenness has come with a cost – she has faced harassment and threatening phone calls throughout her career, and a few years ago had to pretend to be someone else when gunmen showed up at her door following a report criticizing two MPs.
    Shariefa Shahab, investigator at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Herat, gathers information in a local prison.
    Mozhgan Entazar runs a small organization fighting to improve the pay and standards for women working in factories in Herat. Here she is speaking to a local Imam who shares an office with her.
    Three students at Rana University in Kabul take time to relax between lectures. Advances in the education of women and girls in Afghanistan have been hard-won but they remain fragile.
    Demonstration in Kabul by civil society organizations against the sexual harrassment of girls and women in Afghanistan.
    Jawad Sadat is a university law professor with a human rights specialism, who is also constantly in demand for interviews by local media about women’s rights. He uses his multiple public platforms to raise awareness with local communities about the rights of women and girls.
    Fawzia Nawabi, investigator at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Mazar-e-Sharief, shares stories at a shelter for women at risk.
    Aziza Khairandish responds to a call about a case where a woman’s nose and ears were cut off by her husband, who is now on the run – Aziza is trying to get the authorities to take action.
    Tuesday, April 7, 2015 - 14:13
    Women who try to enter male-dominated professions in Afghanistan often do so at high risk to themselves. Manizha Paktin experienced this first-hand when she started a career as a civil engineer in Mazar-e-Sharif, facing threats and harassment from male colleagues. This inspired her to fight for women in similar positions, through her organization Stand Up for Afghan Women. Here, she is scolding contractors for getting it wrong in their work on an office building in Kabul.
    Najiba Ayubi has been at the forefront of Afghan journalism for almost three decades, and today heads one of the country’s largest media groups, Killid. Her outspokenness has come with a cost – she has faced harassment and threatening phone calls throughout her career, and a few years ago had to pretend to be someone else when gunmen showed up at her door following a report criticizing two MPs.
    Shariefa Shahab, investigator at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Herat, gathers information in a local prison.
    Mozhgan Entazar runs a small organization fighting to improve the pay and standards for women working in factories in Herat. Here she is speaking to a local Imam who shares an office with her.
    Three students at Rana University in Kabul take time to relax between lectures. Advances in the education of women and girls in Afghanistan have been hard-won but they remain fragile.
    Demonstration in Kabul by civil society organizations against the sexual harrassment of girls and women in Afghanistan.
    Jawad Sadat is a university law professor with a human rights specialism, who is also constantly in demand for interviews by local media about women’s rights. He uses his multiple public platforms to raise awareness with local communities about the rights of women and girls.
    Fawzia Nawabi, investigator at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Mazar-e-Sharief, shares stories at a shelter for women at risk.
    Aziza Khairandish responds to a call about a case where a woman’s nose and ears were cut off by her husband, who is now on the run – Aziza is trying to get the authorities to take action.

    By Jackie Hansen, Major Campaigns and Women's Rights CampaignerAziza Khairandish responds to a call about a case where a woman’s nose and ears were cut off by her husband, who is now on the run – Aziza is trying to get the authorities to take action.

    Afghanistan is a dangerous place. It’s particularly dangerous for women, who all too often experience threats and violence simply because of their gender. Women in the public sphere, whether they are doctors, engineers, police officers, or politicians, are seen as stepping outside of social, cultural, and religious norms and are at particular risk. And the courageous women and men who take a stand to defend women’s human rights are at perhaps the greatest risk. The story of women human rights defenders in Afghanistan is a story of hope, courage, and resilience in the face of unspeakable tragedy.

    Join Amnesty International and Act Now to make sure that Afghanistan doesn't turn its back on women human rights defenders.

    Fawzia Nawabi, investigator at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Mazar-e-Sharief, shares stories at a shelter for women at risk.

    While overall civilian casualties in Afghanistan are decreasing, women casualties have gone up dramatically. Despite strong laws and policies protecting women from violence and discrimination, they remain largely unimplemented.

    Women are under threat from the Taliban and other insurgents, from government authorities, powerful commanders and warlords and even their own families.

    Sherifa Shahab is the police ombudsman for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission in the western Herat province. She deals with cases of police abuse against civilians, as well as fighting abuse within the police force, particularly endemic sexual harassment of women police officers. Here, she consoles the father of a detainee who complained of ill treatment at the hands of the police.

    And in this climate of fear and violence, women continue to put their lives on the line to work in the public sphere and to defend human rights. They receive death threats, face assassination attempts, and worse. And still they continue their work.

    This the story of Senator Rohgul Khairkhwah, one of the many courageous women in Afghanistan who bravely forges on despite the risks. Her story and the stories of other women human rights defenders in Afghanistan are profiled in “On their own: Women human rights defenders at risk in Afghanistan,” a new report published by Amnesty International. 

    Mozhgan Entazar runs a small organisation fighting to improve the pay and standards for women working in factories in Herat. Here she is speaking to a local Imam who shares an office with her.

    Senator Rohgul Khairkhwah

    “Anti-government groups are targeting prominent and outspoken women’s rights advocates [in order to] spread fear among other women’s rights activists [and] stop their activities.” – Senator Rohgul Khairkhwah

    Rohgul Khairkhwah is the Senator for Nimroz province in southern Afghanistan. On August 4, 2013, two days before the Muslim festival of Eid, as she was driving through Ghazni province on her way home, the Taliban attacked the vehicle she was travelling in. With her in the car were her husband and their three children, her brother and his three children. The Senator’s seven-year old daughter and brother were killed in the attack. Her other daughter, who was 11 at the time, became paralyzed as a result of her injuries. The Senator was shot nine times, with wounds to her liver and lung, and in one leg. She also lost a finger, and three others are now paralyzed. She spent the next two months in hospital recuperating from her injuries.
    Despite her ordeal, Senator Khairkhwah returned to work after she was discharged. Given what she has suffered, people did not expect her to resume her position in the Senate, but as she told Amnesty International: “I want to motivate other women to continue their work.”

    Senator Khairkhwah continues to represent the people of Nimroz despite the threatening phone calls and texts she receives. After the attempt on her life, the Senator had both her telephone number and handset changed but a few months after that the threats resumed. She estimates that she has received more than 100 threats since 2010.

    Since the threats first began, Senator Khairkhwah has kept Afghanistan’s intelligence service and other government agencies informed of the threats against her, but the official response has been negligible. When the threats first began, she was told that that they were merely “designed to create a climate of fear” because of the peace consultations at which she was a delegate. Two years later, Senator Khairkhwah still has no answer as to who is responsible for the murder of her daughter and brother.

    A different reality

    Najiba Ayubi, head of the Killid Media Group, being interviewed at a demonstration in Kabul against the sexual harrassment of girls and women in Afghanistan.While Senator Kharikhwah's story may be all too familiar in Afghanistan, it is almost unimaginable in Canada. If you had been shot because of your work, if you had received death threats, if family members had lost their lives because of your work, what would you do? Would you continue to speak out? Would you go into hiding? Would you try to leave the country? 

    Join Amnesty International and Act Now to make sure that Afghanistan doesn't turn its back on women human rights defenders.

    Read Amnesty International's report, "On Their Own: Women Human Rights Defenders At Risk in Afghanistan."

    Join Amnesty International's campaign to protect women's human rights. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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