Fourteen-year-old Gastina probably didn’t realize the imminent danger she was facing.
As the seventh-grade student was fetching drinking water at 9 a.m. from a well some 500 feet from her modest house in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz early this past Tuesday, she was set upon by two men brandishing a hunting knife. The men, who are related to Gastina, jumped on her and brutally slit her throat to the bone. The local police and the provincial director of women’s affairs in the province called her cruel death a beheading.
“They did not give her a chance,” Kunduz police spokesman Sayed Sarwar told The Daily Beast by phone. “They didn’t even let her cry out for help.”
“She was very brutally beheaded just for refusing a marriage request,” says Nadiya Guyah, the Kunduz provincial women’s affairs director.
Both men, who are brothers, have been arrested.
Sadeq, Masood, and their family had been pestering—indeed, threatening—Gastina’s father, Noor Rahman, that they would not take no for an answer to Masood’s marriage proposal. Rahman stood his ground, insisting that his daughter was too young to be engaged. Sarwar, the police spokesman, says Rahman told him that the brothers had proposed repeatedly and seemed to become angrier after each rejection. Sarwar adds that immediately after killing Gastina, the two men rushed home, changed out of their bloodstained clothes, and tried to run. The police caught them and said they looked “frightened and nervous.” Sarwar says police found bloodstained clothes and the knife used in the murder in the brothers’ home. Both men are in custody, but the charges against them, if any, are unclear.
Unfortunately, Gastina’s death is not an isolated incident of brutality against girls and women in Kunduz or in much of Afghanistan, a conservative, tradition-bound country. In eastern Afghanistan, for example, teenage girls have had their noses and ears cut off or been attacked with axes for somehow tarnishing a family’s honor. Suicides and suicide attempts, including jumping off buildings, self-immolations, and drinking rat poison, are also increasing among women who are being forced to marry against their will.
Guyah, director of women’s affairs in the province, says Gastina’s brutal murder is only the latest outrage in a rising trend of violence against women in Kunduz. “We have registered 11 such cases against women in the past eight months as opposed to six last year.” She goes on to recite a long list of women who have been raped and killed. One woman was raped by four local policemen. In nearby Chardara district, a young girl’s body was found, and no one claimed it for more than one week. “We know the reason behind her death was a family problem,” Guyah says. She recalls another recent case in which a husband killed his wife for giving birth to a daughter. In yet another horrific incident, a woman and her three children were all killed by her late husband’s brother so that he could quickly get his hands on the children’s inheritance.
“This year aggression and atrocities against women are on the rise, and that is a worrying sign for women in the future. This is a cultural problem in our society,” Guyah says. “We suggest the death penalty for those involved in such horrible cases,” she adds. But all too often, she says, the perpetrators escape with light or even no punishment.
No one knows the dangers of refusing to honor strict traditions better than a former Afghan television anchor who asked not to be named for security reasons. The Taliban had killed her husband in 2003, leaving her with six children. Her husband’s family, saying that it was dishonorable to have an unmarried widow living in their midst, tried to force her to marry her deceased husband’s brother, which she refused to do. “I told them I don’t wish to marry for a second time,” she tells The Daily Beast. “I judged they were going to kill me or force me to marry, so my only option was to leave the country and come to Pakistan with my children.” Being an educated woman, she had options, she says, while most Afghan women do not have such freedom of choice. “I was lucky to have escaped. Had I been poor and uneducated like so many Afghan women, I would have been tied up or killed like an animal,” she says.
She is not optimistic about sweeping change coming quickly to Afghanistan—despite the progress that has been made over the past decade in terms of girls’ and women’s schooling and increased protections and family rights for women. “It will take decades to change the mindset of Afghan men,” she says. “Change might even be impossible.”
“The international community’s claim that life is improving for women in Afghanistan is just a dream,” she adds. “Afghan men are keeping Afghan women in a centuries-old time warp. Unfortunately Gastina’s death is the grim reality.”