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Eggs and bullets: the occupational hazards of a politician

Ed Miliband had an egg thrown at him last week. “These things happen” he said afterwards, shrugging off his coat (and perhaps his embarrassment) and continuing about his business. I guess having eggs thrown at you is a bit of an occupational hazard for British politicians, as the Prime Minister and John Prescott (who could forget the Prescott punch?) would testify.  

Having egg on your face as a public figure is probably not very pleasant, but when compared to the occupational hazards faced by politicians in some countries, it’s pretty trivial. Just last week in Afghanistan, for example, parliamentarian Fariba Kakar was abducted along with her two daughters (who have since been released) whilst travelling. Her whereabouts are still unknown.

This is the latest in a string of recent attacks on high profile Afghan women. Just over a week ago Rooh Gul, a Senator from the west of the country, survived an attack in which her daughter and driver were both killed. Islam Bibi, a prominent senior female police officer in Helmand province, was less fortunate (though the word “fortunate” seems particularly misplaced in this context) and was murdered in July.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of attacks against women in Afghanistan. There are many high-profile examples (the last two Directors of Women’s Affairs  in Laghman province were murdered last year, for example) and also countless incidents involving women in less high-profile – but no less important – roles.  

As yet none of the perpetrators involved in any of these cases have been brought to justice. How would Ministers in the UK react if two parliamentarians and a senior Police Officer were attacked within the space of a month? Not attacked with eggs, attacked with guns. What kind of security would our politicians and public staff demand?

In Afghanistan women human rights defenders working for NGOs, the government, the media or health services are regularly targeted with threats, violence and murder, because of the work they do and simply because they are women. In fact Amnesty has documented a rise in such attacks over the past few years.

Despite this the Afghan government, supported by its international allies including the UK, seems impotent (or unwilling) to address the security needs of women defenders.

The UK government, as a key diplomatic ally and significant donor to the country, must do more to pressure the Afghan authorities to improve security provision for high-profile women, and implement protection services for rights defenders. The UK embassy should be developing extensive links with activists from across the country in order to improve support and protection for them, as dictated in the EU Human Rights Defender Guidelines, which all EU embassies should follow.

Tomorrow the UK Deputy Ambassador to Afghanistan will be answering questions on Facebook and I intend to ask him what more the embassy can do to offer protection to courageous women human rights defenders.

We want you to ask questions too – you could ask how many women human rights defenders the embassy meets with regularly, or whether the embassy has a country specific plan for working with rights activists, or what the embassy is doing to pressure the Afghan government to act to improve security for Afghan women.

I don’t want to pick up a newspaper tomorrow or next week and see that yet another Afghan woman has been murdered because of her work defending human rights. If you don't either, ask the UK embassy what they're doing to support women human rights defenders in Afghanistan. Amnesty stands in solidarity with those women, and so should the UK government.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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