Afghan women remember their sister’s fight for rights

Sitara Achakzai, photographed by her Afghan relatives in Canada. (AFGHAN_ACTIVIST2)

Whenever sisters Malale Maiwand and Bashera Mohammed gaze at the stars, they remember their beloved sister, Sitara Achakzai. Sitara is the Pashto word for star.

“We are immensely proud of our youngest sister,” Maiwand said at her home in Markham, Ont., just before Remembrance Day this week.

In 2004, Achakzai travelled to her homeland, Afghanistan. She held dual Afghan-German citizenship. She abandoned the safety and comfort of her life in Germany to fight for women’s rights in war-torn Afghanistan. She successfully ran for a seat in Kandahar’s provincial council. She was one of only four elected women in the council.

Sitara Achakzai dedicated her life to fighting for the rights of Afghan women, her sisters said. She empowered women. She encouraged women to get an education and jobs. She sought to rebuild her country. She believed that one day things would get better, despite the current turmoil, Maiwand said.

At her home in Markham, Maiwand has dedicated an entire wall to the memory of her sister. The wall is covered with photos and newspaper clippings of Achakzai.

Sophia/Safia Amajan, another advocate of women’s rights and one of Achakzai’s friends was often mentioned during Achakzai’s conversations with her sisters in Canada. In 2006, Amajan was shot and killed in Afghanistan.

Achakzai’s sisters used Amajan’s death to convince her to not return.

But Achakzai’s sisters recall her fearlessness whenever the topic of death was raised.

“Achakzai wasn’t afraid of dying,” Mohammed said. “She believed that if a bullet was destined to hit her (or was) meant for her, then she couldn’t change that. It was destiny.”

Even though Achakzai had a bodyguard and owned several different coloured burquas and shoes to avoid being recognized, she wasn’t invincible. On April 12, 2009, Gunmen shot and killed her in front of her home in Kandahar.

“We have fond memories of her. We miss her, but we’re proud of her for dedicating five years of her life to the progress of Afghan women,” Maiwand said. “She sacrificed her life to help the women of Afghanistan.”