If you're looking for an indication for how women and women's rights are faring in Afghanistan, look at the very few female leaders in the government. On Monday, Afghan woman's affairs official Najia Siddiqi who was shot to death by two men, only months after Siddiqi's predecessor, Hanifa Safi, was blown up by a roadside bomb in July.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul released a statement condemning the act, saying "Those who killed Siddiqi have no respect for human rights or the safety of the Afghan people." The chief of police in Laghman province, where Siddiqi was killed, told the press "we will very soon capture the attackers." No one has yet come forward to claim responsibility for the deaths of either Siddiqi or Safi.
Siddiqi and Safi just two of ten Afghan women leaders who have been killed in recent years for their audacity to campaign for women's rights in the face of the Taliban. Here are thirteen other pioneering and controversial women who paid the ultimate price.
Anna Mae Aquash, February 1976: Aquash was a Native American activist who participated in the 1972 Trail of Broken Treaties March on Washington D.C., meant to bring attention to Native American issues. She helped occupy the Department of Interior headquarters following the March, and in subsequent years participated in the armed occupations of Wounded Knee, South Dakota; the Anicinabe Park in Kenora, Ontario, and a monastery in Gresham, Wisconsin. Aquash's body was found in February 1976, after being dead for about 10 days, with a bullet wound in the back of the head. Ironically, Aquash was born in Canada.
Indira Gandhi, 31 October 1984: The fifth Prime Minster of India, first female Prime Minister, and second-ever female head of government of the modern era (Sirimavo Bandaranike of Sri Lanka beat her to that punch by six years), Gandhi served as the head of the Indian government for four terms, from 1966-77, and 1980-84. Educated at Oxford, she became a member of the Indian parliament after her father, the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, died in 1964. She quickly moved to become head of the Congress party, and as Prime Minister, oversaw India's victory in the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war, and fostered closer relations with the Soviet Union, while distancing India from the U.S.. Gandhi was assassinated by two of her bodyguards in 1984 in retaliation for Operation Blue Star, a military operation meant to remove armed Sikh separatists from the Golden Temple in Amritsar in northwest India.
Meena Keshwar Kamal, 4 February 1987: Commonly known as Meena, Kamal was an Afghani feminist and women's rights activist, and is considered the founder of the women's rights movement in Afghanistan. She founded the Revolutionary Association of Women while still a student at Kabul University in 1977. The group still exists, but moved to Pakistan in the 1980s, where Kamal and RAWA helped establish schools and hospitals for refugee women and children from Afghanistan. Kamal was killed in Quetta, Pakistan by unknown assassins.
Diana Turbay, 25 January 1991: A Colombian journalist and the daughter of President Julio César Turbay, she founded the erstwhile newscast Noticiero Criptón, which folded in 2000, and the news magazine Hoy por Hoy (Today for today). She was kidnapped by drug lord Pablo Escobar as part of a power play by Escobar to avoid being extradited to the U.S. Turbay was shot when the police attempted to rescue her.
María Elena Moyano, 15 February 1992: Moyano was a Peruvian activist who advocated for the poor and set up educational and nutritional programs for children. She publicly spoke out and led a march against the guerilla insurgent group, the Shining Path, who were attempting a communist overthrow of the Peruvian government. She was assassinated by guerilla operatives after an anti-Shining Path match in February 1992. Her death caused a public outcry, eventually leading to the arrest of the leader of Shining Path and the demise of the group as a whole.
Agathe Uwilingiyimana, 7 April 1994: Uwilinkiyimana was the first and thus far only female Prime Minister of Rwanda. She served from 1993 until she was killed in 1994. Originally educated as a teacher, she gained prominence after organizing her colleagues into a cooperative. In 1989 she became director of the Ministry of Commerce, and in 1992 she joined the opposition party in the government. She first became Education Minister, during which time she abolished ethnic quotas in schools, and then rose to become Prime Minister. She was actually dismissed from her post 18 days after being elected, but stayed on as a caretaker Prime Minister for the next eight months. She and her family were killed during a stand-off in her home, just hours after the President had also been assassinated. Her death coincided with the opening stages of the Rwandan genocide.
Veronica Guerin, 26 June 1996: Guerin was an Irish journalist who specialized in crime reporting, and had a reputation for following leads on stories with little thought for her own safety. She began receiving death threats when she started covering the drug world, with shots being fired at her house and a gunman showing up at her door, Guerin continued her investigations unabated. She was eventually shot six times in the back of the head while being followed in her car. Her death led to the arrest and flight from the country of several of Ireland's prominent drug lords.
Konca Kuris, 20 July 1999: Originally a member of Hezbollah, Kuris was a Muslim-Turkish feminist and writer who later denounced the Islamist group. Although a devout Muslim herself, Kuris openly criticized the dogmatic teachings of Hezbollah, and appeared on many TV shows arguing with male scholars, and gave lectures demanding rights for Muslim women. She was kidnapped by the Turkish Hezbollah in 1998, held and tortured for 38 days, and then killed. Her body was discovered in 2000. Hezbollah recorded her tortures, and in a statement said that Kruis was "an enemy of Islam," and has "led confusion and poisoned the Muslims with her ideas. That is why she deserved death."
Anna Lindh, 11 September 2003: Lindh was a Swedish politician and former Foreign Minister in the government. She became involved in politics at an early age, was very critical of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and campaigned heavily for Sweden to join the euro. She was considered to be next in line to take over the Prime Ministership, when she was randomly attacked and stabbed by a mentally ill Serbian man. She is remembered as one of the most popular pro-euro politicians in Sweden, but Sweden still does not use the euro.
Aquila al-Hashimi, 25 September 2003: al-Hashimi was an Iraqi politician, first under Saddam Hussein, and then was one of only three women and only former member of the Hussein regime invited to join the transitional council after the 2003 invasion. She was expected to become Iraq's ambassador to the U.N., but was shot by six men thought to be loyal to the former regime near her home in Baghdad. She died of abdomen wounds from the shots five days later.
Dorothy Stang, 12 February 2005: Sister Dorothy Mae Stang was an American-Brazilian Roman Catholic nun, who spent most of her career advocating for the poor and for environmental conservation. She began to receive death threats from Brazil's lumber and logger barons, and was shot in the stomach, back, and four times in the head while on her way to community meeting.
Anna Politkovskaya, 7 October 2006: Politkovskaya was a Russian-American journalist and human rights activist. Born in New York, and raised in Moscow, she was the daughter of U.N. diplomats, and one of the only journalists who had the stomach to report on the violence in Chechnya. She was also an outspoken opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and attempted to help negotiate a resolution during the Moscow theater hostage crisis in 2002. She faced one mock execution in Chechnya and an attempted poisoning in the early 2000's, before being found dead in her building's elevator in October 2006. She had been shot four times. It was widely suspected that a politician inside the Russian government was responsible for ordering the shooting.
Benazir Bhutto, 27 December 2007: Bhutto was the first and so far only female Prime Minister of Pakistan. Despite this achievement, her legacy is clouded by corruption charges and lack of progress for women's rights. The daughter of former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir was imprisoned and exiled in her twenties. At age 29 she became the chairwoman of Pakistan's center-left party, and became Prime Minister at age 34, the first of two times she would hold that position (1988-1900, and 1993-1996). After spending another period of time in exile in the early 2000s, she returned to Pakistan in 2007, hoping to set up a power-sharing agreement with then-President Perez Musharraf. She was assassinated by gunmen and a series of explosions while leaving a rally on 27 December, 2007.
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