GUNMEN have shot dead the most senior police woman in Helmand, in the latest reminder of the dangers faced by Afghan women every day.
Lieutenant Islam Bibi had become the face of female empowerment in a province that remained a hotbed of Taleban insurgency.
She had seen off three death threats from her brother and constant anguish from a family that believed the mother-of-three should stay at the home.Her rise through the ranks came to an end as she left her home yesterday morning in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah.
“She was shot by unknown assailants when she was being driven to work by her son in the morning,” said a Helmand provincial government spokesman.
“She was badly wounded and taken to hospital, and later died in emergency care. Her son was also injured.”
The 37-year-old was a role model for the small number of women in the area who wanted to work outside the home. The conservative province is the sort of place where girls and women are rarely spotted on the streets – and then only in the all-enveloping blue burka.
She faced constant threats from extremists, opium smugglers and even her family.
“My brother, father and sisters were all against me. In fact, my brother tried to kill me three times,” she aid in an interview earlier this year.
“He came to see me brandishing his pistol trying to order me not to do it, though he didn’t actually open fire. The government eventually had to take his pistol away.”
Lt Bibi was a refugee in Iran when the Taleban overran Afghanistan in the 1990s. She remembered returning for a visit home to find that women were banned from school and work, and were not allowed to leave home without a chaperone.
She returned for good when the Taleban were driven from Kabul in 2001, raising her family at home before joining the police nine years ago.
“Firstly I needed the money, but secondly I love my country,” she said in April. “I feel proud wearing the uniform and I want to try to make Afghanistan a better and stronger country.”
Police said it was too soon to speculate about who may have been behind the murder.
Lt Bibi’s death serves as a reminder that women still face a daily struggle to go to work or school.
International donors, including the UK’s Department for International Development, frequently cite gains in women’s rights as proof the country is headed in the right direction.
But campaigners warn of worrying signs that gains are being rolled back as president Hamid Karzai tries to woo conservatives and convince the Taleban to enter peace talks.