The Taliban has publicly executed two women in northern Afghanistan, with graphic video of one of the brutal killings circulating on social media in early May. According to Afghan officials, the women were both shot in Jowzjan Province in recent months.
The executions came to light after a video of the first killing emerged online, and officials soon uncovered evidence of the second. "Such executions of women by the Taliban is unfortunately a the dark reality," says Samira Hamidi, a board member of the advocacy group coalition Afghan Women's Network.
"It is clear that militant groups like the Taliban have no pity on human beings, particularly women. The execution shows how powerless the Afghan government is, whilst significantly increasing the vulnerability of women."
In the past, the Afghan government condemned similar killings that were captured on mobile phones and then streamed online. But this time, the executions have been overshadowed by the hanging of six Taliban prisoners on May 8. It is the first time Afghan president Ashraf Ghani has used the death penalty since going into office in 2014.
"The execution of these two women can't be overlooked because of other events; there has already been two other executions of women by the Taliban earlier this year," Women for Afghan Women director Manizha Naderi tells Broadly. "Nobody is asking where and how the group is getting money to continue committing these acts. Neighboring Pakistan are funding the Taliban; this is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with."
The New York Times named one of the victims as Rabia, a 22-year-old pregnant woman with two young children. Her husband had accused her of adultery; the Taliban tried and convicted her before shooting her three times. Relatives said that her husband had fabricated the claim because he wanted to inherit her land interests.
"They buried her without even allowing her family to participate in her funeral," Shakera, her aunt, told the Times. "I know she was a very innocent woman. She did not have the heart to be unfaithful."
Rabia's six-month-old son and his three-year-old sister now live with their father, but the family cannot even afford to buy powdered baby formula for her youngest child. "In situations like this, the victim's family are also vulnerable and can even be at risk for raising their voice," Hamidi says. "The Afghan government must provide them necessary protection in order to prevent any form of harm to them."
In a country where the law bars relatives of the accused from testifying against them, Naderi of Women for Afghan Women knows too well the fear that women have of honor killings. "I have never seen a man being stoned. You can't commit adultery on your own, yet why is it always women who have to pay the price?" she says in despair. "Every year more and more women are coming to the 32 shelters our organisation runs across the country. It isn't the culture of honour-killings, but because more women are aware of their own rights and are coming forward to seek help."
Rabia's aunt says that the Taliban also had a politically motivated reason for killing Rabia: two of her uncles are militia commanders loyal to Abdul Rashid Dostum, a Uzbek leader who is also first vice president of Afghanistan. "The Taliban do what they do, to show their strength at the expense of other women," Naderi says. According to the district governor of Faizabad, a Taliban shadow governor had personally executed the woman himself.
The video of the second Jowzjan killing surfaced earlier this May. In the footage, a woman in a pale blue burqa sits on the ground outside as she is convicted by a Taliban court of killing her husband. The people surrounding her—including members of her husband's family—shout for her to be executed. A gunman then steps forward from the crowd and shoots her in the head.
Local authorities say that the execution took place four months ago; the victim's identity remains unknown. The deputy police chief of Jowzjan Province, Col. Abdul Hafeez, believes that the executioner, who had his face covered, was the district's Taliban commander.
The Taliban have not commented on the executions. But the Times notes that the killings are similar to executions between 1996 and 2001 when the Taliban were in power. In the past, women were publicly executed at the National Stadium in Kabul for so-called "moral crimes" like adultery.
Enough people die from the ongoing violence, but the executions by the Taliban show their strength at the expense of women.
Although Afghan women have since won basic rights in education, voting and work—rights that the Taliban deem as un-Islamic for women—executions by the terrorist group still continue, many of which are never made public.
"Except for major cities in the country, the Afghan military cannot get to rural areas where the Taliban still have a stronghold," Naderi explains. "Enough people die from the ongoing violence, but the executions by the Taliban show their strength at the expense of women. Unless something like this happens in Kabul, there is no outrage from the locals."
For many Afghan women, the 2015 murder of Fakhunda Malikzada in Kabul by a mob of men is a stark reminder of the realities they still face. The then 27-year-old was falsely accused of burning the Quran before being lynched. Her body was set on fire and left on a riverbed. Despite the mass protests and international condemnation of her death, the attackers initially sentenced to death had their sentences overturned or shortened, while others were set free.
"This shows the lack of access to justice and failure for women in Afghanistan," Hamidi says. "When an official justice system is not supportive enough of women, local communities and other informants become judges. The international pressure is therefore a requirement and women in Afghanistan will need it for many years."
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Unlike Farkhunda's case, there hasn't been any public condemnation nor protests in response to women executed by the Taliban. "Farkhunda was killed by a mob, not by the Taliban. It also happened during daylight, in the capital city, where many of the women's rights activists live," Naderi points out. "Although what happened to Farkhunda is terrible, her case lends itself for people to mobilize. But when the Taliban murder women, there is more risk in speaking out."
When NATO wrapped up its combat mission in the country at the end of 2014, the military withdrawal was supposed to mark a new era of peace and stability. But the issue of women's rights remains sidelined as the Afghan government continue to pursue peace talks with an unreceptive Taliban.
"While the Afghan government claims to be pro-women, they must be watched, monitored, and questioned regularly," Hamidi says. "There is always a need for international support and condemnation on brutal violence against women."
"Of course there is more work to be done on women's rights in the country. But I have hope in our government,'" Naderi concludes. "The Taliban need to be destroyed and Pakistan needs to stop funding them. Until then, we can't even begin to improve and strengthen rights for our women."