‘I don’t feel safe. The shadow of that fear follows me all the time.’
Dr D is a gynaecologist in Afghanistan. Her name has been changed to protect her identity; her life-saving work, providing healthcare to women who’ve experienced sexual violence, puts her own family in grave danger. Dr D has already lost family members because of her work, and fears another attack all the time.
Supporting victims of domestic violence
Six years ago, Dr D was working in a clinic in Kunar. Many of the women who came to the clinic had experienced rape and sexual violence – often from men within their own families.
‘There were cases in which the woman was raped by her father-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, brother – as well as cases in which women were raped by strangers while fetching wood or water from the river.’
Often, women came to her clinic to have an abortion to escape death by so-called ‘honour killings’.
‘If the child was not aborted and the tribe or family found out that a woman is pregnant because she was raped then they will kill the woman’.
Her work in the clinic may have saved these women’s lives, but Dr D put her own life at risk in order to save others. In 2007, the threats started.
‘I would receive threatening night letters and phone calls from the Taliban, warning that they would kill me and my family because of my work.’
Her children attacked
In March 2009, the threats became awful reality when Dr D’s sons were attacked.
‘It was late afternoon, I was inside and the children were playing out in the front yard. My twin sons were both 11 years old. Suddenly I heard a big bang. There was black smoke. The windows shattered. I felt like I became deaf.
‘I ran outside and saw my son lying in a pool of blood. His clothes were torn apart and he was covered in dust. I screamed and grabbed him, looked to my other son and he was fine. We rushed to hospital with my injured son.’
Thankfully, with a year of medical treatment, constant moves from hospital to hospital – including an operation that had to be performed in a hospital in Pakistan – Dr D’s son started to recover. But that day hangs over Dr D and her family, and left her now-teenage son traumatised.
‘He is always tired and depressed, and always asks why this incident happened to him.’
Her brother murdered
Just six months after her son was attacked, Dr D’s 22-year old brother was the victim of a grenade attack outside their home. He did not survive.
‘I was in Jalalabad with my injured son when I received a call from Kunar… My worst nightmare had come true. I was still mourning for what had happened to my son. Then my brother was killed and it made my condition worse.’
And all because DR D is a gynaecologist.
Dr D’s work in the clinic is the reason her young son was severely injured, and her brother killed. Even after her brother’s death, the Taliban continued to threaten Dr D and her family. She moved to a different region and stopped carrying out abortions, but still does not feel safe.
‘Since then I am hyper vigilant, and always expecting something bad to happen to my family. If my children are late home I panic and think that something bad might have happened to them.
‘I am still working but trying not to make my work public as the threats continue to follow me. I don’t feel safe at all – not for myself, not for my kids, and not for my husband. The shadow of that fear follows me all the time.
‘I have stopped doing abortions and keep a low profile at work. Nobody knows my address. If they know my whereabouts they will start threatening me again.’
Targeted for offering life-saving healthcare
As far as Dr D is concerned, she’s just doing her job.
‘I was not doing anything controversial. I was helping women, and maybe because of that I was targeted. As a doctor I have a duty to help. It doesn’t matter at what cost.’
Providing basic healthcare has put Dr D at risk, simply for defending women’s human rights – the right to life, the right to equality and freedom, and the right to adequate healthcare. But through her medical attention she has been able to empower women, and help them know choices available to them.
‘I was saving their lives, but I was also advising victims of rape and sexual violence to seek justice, to speak out and to report – knowing that doing these things could be dangerous for the women, and for me.’
Dr D says she’s just doing her job. But Dr D’s job has already taken her brother’s life, severely affected her son’s mental and physical health, and caused her family to fear for their safety at all times.
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09 Sep 2013, 12:27pm