Being a writer —or woman— still dangerous in Afghanistan

A woman poet well-known in literary circles in Afghanistan’s western city of Herat has died after being severely beaten by her husband, authorites report. Nadia Anjuman, 25, died late on Nov. 1, said provincial police chief Nisar Ahmad Paikar. “We have arrested her husband, accused of killing her,” Paikar told AFP. The couple had a six-month-old daughter. Anjuman, a student at Herat university, had a first book of poetry printed this year. She was popular in Afghanistan and neighboring Iran.

The United Nations has condemned the killing. “The death of Nadia Anjuman, as reported, is indeed tragic and a great loss to Afghanistan,” UN spokesman Adrian Edwards said at a media briefing. “It needs to be investigated and anyone found responsible needs to be dealt with in a proper court of law.” (AFP via Pakistan Daily Times, Nov. 8; BBC, Nov. 6)

This appears indicative of the continuing vulnerability of women in Afghanistan. Ironically, Herat province had just witnessed the election of Fauzia Gailani, a women’s rights campaigner and professional fitness instructor, to Afghanistan’s parliament in an upset victory. Gailani, whose campaign posters “sold in a hormonally-charged secondary market,” topped the ballot with nearly 17,000 votes and eclipsed powerful allies of the province’s former ruler, warlord Ismail Khan. Results show that although female candidates failed to win more seats than the 68 reserved for them under the constitution, many would have been elected even with out the quota system. (India Daily, Oct. 24)

Gailani pledges to form Afghanistan’s first women’s party. “Women are not seen as human beings in Afghanistan, but like objects that people can sell, trade or buy,” she says. “There are not enough rights for women in this country: they cannot study, they cannot work.” She is particularly opposed to child marriage, which is common in Afghanistan. “I can talk about it: I was married at 12, I had my first child at 13, and I hated that,” she says. (Sify, Nov. 5)

The results also confirmed a seat in the new parliament for another women’s rights activist, Malalai Joya, from Farah province, who rose to prominence—and received death threats—when she dared to criticize feared warlords at the Loya Jirga two years ago. (Middle East Times, Oct. 17) (NOTE: Some reports indicated Malalai Joya only came in second in the Farah race.)

Even if Anjuman’s death had more to do with being a woman than being a poet, we recently noted that writing is a pretty dangerous vocation in Afghanistan. Ditto being an editor.

See also: Malalai Joya Defense Committee

See our last post on Afghanistan.