When Taliban gunmen shot dead prominent women’s rights activist Sitara Achakzai in Kandahar on Sunday, they had nothing to hide. It was broad daylight after all.

To further underline that bloody message of hatred for women, a Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the murder.

Clearly, misogyny has married impunity and the Taliban — ousted from power in 2001 — are, once more, terrorizing the women of their country.

Achakzai’s assassination was but the latest in a series of murders targeted at women’s rights activists. Under almost identical circumstances, Taliban gunmen in September killed the highest-ranking female police officer in Kandahar, Lt.-Col. Malalai Kakar.

Such murders are just the most visible signs of the violence meted out to the girls and women of Afghanistan. Just last month, the United Nations warned in its annual human rights report that Afghan women’s rights were little better today than they were during the brutal reign of the ultra-conservative Taliban.

Girls as young as seven are targets of rape, while other females suffer “honour killings,” early and forced marriages, sexual abuse and slavery, the UN report said.

Obviously, in the absence of rule of law everyone is vulnerable in Afghanistan. But girls and women are on the bottom of everyone’s lists. President Hamid Karzai was forced to reconsider his signature on a law allowing marital rape after an international outcry earlier this month. Hardline clerics seem hell-bent on justifying the most heinous of acts in the name of Islam.

When the president is willing to sell women out and when those who claim to be the gatekeepers of God give sanction to such selling out, it is not difficult to understand why the Taliban’s hate for women gets a free ride.

We hear a lot about the need to talk to the Taliban to end fighting in Afghanistan. Such a conversation must not happen at the expense of Afghan girls and women.

I am a Muslim woman who is fed up of those leaders and clerics who claim to speak in the name of my religion and yet who ignore its message of justice and equality. They are just as much to blame as the gunmen who shot Achakzai and Kakar.

Both women were Muslim and knew the violence had nothing to do with religion, but was just plain old misogyny. Kakar used to protect abused wives by physically beating their husbands.

As I say a prayer for Sitara and Malalai, I hope they’ve found peace in feminist heaven.

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