KABUL Over 100 women and a handful of men took to the streets of the Afghan capital on Wednesday to call on the government to do more to protect women's rights after the public execution of a young woman sparked an international outcry.
Mothers cradling babies and schoolgirls in uniform chanted "Death to the men who killed our sister!", days after Reuters obtained a video of a 22-year-old woman being riddled with bullets to cheers of jubilation from a male crowd just over an hour's drive from Kabul.
Officials in Kabul blamed the Taliban for the killing last month of the woman named Najiba, who was accused of adultery, in a village in Parwan province.
The Islamist group denied it, saying if they had carried it out, "proper" sharia, Islamic law, would have been applied.
"We are grateful for the aid money, but we want it to be used to bring women justice and peace, the Afghan government needs to be held accountable," said Wazhma Frogh, a leading Afghan women's rights activist, at the protest.
Behind her, headscarved women under blazing sunshine held up a banner reading: "International community - where is the protection and justice for Afghan women?"
News of the public execution emerged as donors in Tokyo pledged $16 billion in development aid over the next four years for Afghanistan, as they try to prevent it from sliding back into chaos once most foreign troops have left by the end of 2014.
But war weariness and donor fatigue are taking their toll on the impoverished country, ranked by a major global poll last year the world's worst place to be a woman, and some Afghan women are beginning to feel left out of the equation.
Afghan women have won back basic rights in education, voting and work since the Taliban were ousted from power but fears are mounting both at home and abroad that such freedoms could be traded away as Kabul seeks peace talks with the group.
Violence against women has been steadily increasing in Afghanistan, according to the country's independent human rights commission, and activists blame this on what they say is waning interest in women's rights on the part of President Hamid Karzai's government.
"It's clear the government doesn't care about these matters, if they did there would have been justice for women all these past years," said Nilofar Haidary, from activist group Young Women For Change, who helped organise the protest.
Karzai strongly condemned the killing of Najiba, calling it a "heinous crime" reminiscent of Taliban rule, who were ousted in 2001 after five years in power.
A manhunt has been launched for the alleged Taliban members involved in her killing, police in Parwan's provincial capital Charikar said on Wednesday.
(Writing and additional reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Alison Williams)
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