Opinion

For Women, Massive Kabul Bombing Is Secondary to Ongoing War on Women

Death by terror attacks is a horrific but inescapable part of life in Kabul, but Afghan women journalists are also targeted by ultra-conservative violence within their own society

File photo: Afghan women's rights activists carry the coffin of Farkhunda, an Afghan woman who was beaten to death and set alight on fire on Thursday, during her funeral ceremony in Kabul March 22, 2015.
Reuters/Mohammad Ismail

As a war journalist for the past ten years, I’ve gotten used to news like Wednesday's attack in Kabul.

Yesterday was just one of those days for me here in London. I opened my laptop at 9:00 AM and started working as usual. Within a few minutes, my former editor from the BBC called me. I could feel her voice was shaking, and that she was trying to stay calm. She informed me that Nazir Ahmad, one of the BBC's drivers, had died in the explosion. For a few seconds, I could not talk or react. I had known him for four years while working as a BBC Persian correspondent in Afghanistan.

Nazir died while driving his colleagues to the office. It's deeply ironic that being a driver would be considered an easy job in many countries, but for Nazir, it meant being on the front lines of a war every living day. I remembered that three years ago I was going to record a piece about the Afghans set to lose their jobs after the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan. These people were going to be left living in fear of a swift death sentence for working with foreigners, international troops and organizations.

Victims of Wednesday's Kabul truck bomb attack, Afghanistan, May 31, 2017.
SHAH MARAI/AFP

Nazir was driving me that day when an explosion went off in front of Afghanistan's High Court. Because of the traffic, our car was very slow and it was four in the afternoon, the time for high court employees to hop in their vehicles and head back home. I saw a baby girl who was holding her mother's hand and looking at me with a grin on her face. In just a matter of seconds we all were lost in a thick smoke with a deafening sound. When I stepped out of the car, I found that baby girl dead, people on fire, some lying in a pool of their own blood.

I had to change my plans and return to the office to go on air and report on the massive attack, which had killed more than 20 people. In that attack, Nazir and I, along with the cameraman, survived. But we knew that death was the closest and most unpredictable element of our daily lives in Kabul.

First as a journalist and then as a woman, I myself faced multiple pressures, dangers and humiliations at the hands of the Taliban and other insurgents. These groups really are the enemies of humanity, delighting in killing civilians at every occasion. Add to that a fundamentalist and conservative society which seems to be 'at war' with its own women, particularly those who are open-minded and active in the public realm - or in other words, women demanding their fundamental rights as human beings. Unsurprisingly, female journalists in Afghanistan are easy targets.

The aftermath of Wednesday's Kabul truck bombing that left over 90 dead, Afghanistan, May 31, 2017.
SHAH MARAI/AFP

The roots of extremism in my country are buried so deep that they can turn contemporary society against women in ways as radical as that experienced in other parts of the world centuries ago.

In 2014, a 28-year-old woman named Farkhunda was murdered on a Kabul street after she was falsely accused of desecrating the Holy Quran. Her killing was my worst experience ever as woman, as a journalist and as a witness. I was on my way back home when the incident occurred; despite all my efforts and my screams for assistance, I could do nothing to help her. In Afghan society, simply being a woman is the single greatest challenge, where the law is weak and the judiciary corrupt and male-dominated.

More than 80% of women in Afghanistan are illiterate. When I started my career in journalism in local media a decade ago, I was well aware of the likely personal consequences. When I become well-known as a female broadcaster for BBC Persian TV, reaching an audience of more than 30 million people, I lost even my most basic freedoms. But I did eventually manage to escape.

Nazir was not so lucky. He died along with 90 other people in Wednesday's attack. He was a kind man, not well-educated, but always respected women and tried to protect us both in the workplace and outside. I remember his constant warnings to me, urging me not to risk my life by going shopping. Anyone could be dangerous and attack me when I was alone, he said.

It is a tragedy that this three-decade war has taken everything from Afghans; their decency, innocence, and their human rights. It has plunged the society into a vortex of religious extremes and illiteracy, and women, as is all too often the case, are always the first victims.

Bahaar Joya is a graduate of the Reuters' Journalism Institute where she researched the impact of social media on the lives of Afghan women. She was previously a BBC Persian correspondent in Kabul. Follow her on Twitter: @Joya27joya