Malalai Kakar, head of the city of Kandahar's department of crimes against women, was shot dead outside of her home on Sunday, September 28th. Her fifteen-year-old son, who was taking her to work, was also wounded and is in critical condition. Taliban gunmen, waiting outside of Kakar’s home, opened fire on her car as she left. Kakar was shot through the head and died on the spot.
Malalai Kakar was the most high-profile female police officer in Afghanistan. She was regularly interviewed in international media and was known for her courage in one of Afghanistan’s most conservative provinces. Kakar was a captain in the police force and headed a team of about 10 women officers. She had reportedly received numerous death threats.
Kakar was the first women to join the Kandahar police force in 2001 after the Taliban were overthrown. She was involved in investigating crimes against women and children, and conducting house searches.
A spokesman for the Taliban took credit for the murder. The extremist group has been mounting a growing insurgency targeting government officials. Several other woman officers and officials have been gunned down by Taliban assassins.
The head of Kandahar province's women's affairs department was killed in a similar way two years ago. And in June gunmen shot dead a female police officer in the western province of Herat in what was believed to be the first assassination of a female police officer in the war-torn country. Bibi Hoor, 26, was on her way home when two armed men on motorbikes opened fire, killing her instantly. It was not clear who killed her.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack, saying in a statement that it was an "act of cowardice" by the "enemies of the peace and welfare and reconstruction of Afghanistan."
Under the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan from 1996-2001, women were not permitted to work or leave their homes without a male relative, and were required to wear an all-covering burqa. Kandahar is known as the birthplace of the Taliban.
About 750 police officers have been killed in the past six months, both male and female, mostly in insurgency-linked violence sweeping the country. The Afghan police force numbers around 80,000 people.
Afghanistan is no stranger to denying women basic rights. While the political and cultural position of women has improved significantly since the overthrow of Taliban rule, there is obviously still a great gap in the way Afghan women should be treated, and the way they are treated, particularly in rural areas where families still restrict mothers, daughters, wives and sisters from participation in public life. They are forced into marriages and denied an even basic education. 87% of Afghan women are illiterate and numerous girls’ schools have been burned down, bombed, or otherwise attacked.
The dangers Afghan women in the public eye face are enormous and frightening. In a religiously oppressive environment, perhaps it is easier to follow unfair rules and expectations, to do as you are told and not make waves. The women who are brave enough to put themselves in increasingly dangerous positions should be lauded for their courage and memorialized for their sacrifices. They are also testament to the distance already covered in assuring women everywhere their rights as humans, but also, how far we have yet to go.