KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Five female Afghan guards working in the airport in southern Kandahar were killed by unknown gunmen as they were on their way to work, security officials said on Saturday, the latest in a string of attacks against women in Afghanistan.
From bomb attacks to targeted or honour killings or domestic abuses, Afghan women have borne the brunt of the 15 years of conflicts during the Taliban-led insurgency as security has deteriorated and violence has increased in most parts of the country.
Samim Khpulwak, spokesman for the governor of Kandahar, said the five women were in charge of searching female travellers at the Kandahar airport, and had been hired by a private security company.
"Two gunmen on motorbike followed their van and opened fire on them, killing the five and their driver this morning, said Samim.
No group has claimed responsibility for Saturday's attack but the Taliban insurgents waging an insurgency to topple the foreign-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani oppose women working outside their homes.
Although Afghan women had made hard-fought rights gains in education and work since the collapse of austere Taliban regime in 2001, there are growing fears that these could reverse with the deterioration of security and increase in violence.
Despite years of pressure by women's groups and foreign donors, Afghanistan remains one of the most difficult places to be a woman.
Restoring fundamental women's rights was one of the main objectives of the international community in Afghanistan, where the hardline Taliban Islamist banned girls from school and women from work in their rule from 1996-2001.
Reporting by Sayed Sarwar; Writing by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Richard Borsuk