The life of Sitara Achekzai

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LISA MULLINS: We'd like to take a couple of minutes here to tell you about a remarkable Afghan woman. Her name was Sitara Achekzai. She was born and raised in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban. Achekzai served as a local council member in Kandahar. She used her position to advocate for women's rights. Earlier this month, Achekzai was shot and killed outside her home. The government of Afghanistan blamed the attack on �enemies of Afghanistan,� that's code for the Taliban. The resurgence of the Islamist movement has made Kandahar increasingly dangerous. Women rarely go out on their own anymore. It was a lot different when Sitara Achekzai was growing up in the 1960s and �70s. Here's how she described it last month, just a few weeks before she was murdered.

SITARA ACHEKZAI: It was much easier to ask for our rights then than it is now. My family was the first family to allow its women to ride on a bicycle in Kandahar city. My sister-in-law was the first woman to come out in public unveiled, and she was also the first woman to ride a bicycle. I was a girl at that time. And I remember my father always telling his children, us kids, �rights are not given, they're taken.� And so by buying us bicycles and riding bicycles, we were taking our rights.

MULLINS: Sitara Achekzai went to college. She taught high school and she became a principal. Then she moved to Germany. She married an Afghan man living there. The couple didn't have children. And Sitara Achekzai said she had mixed feelings about that.

ACHEKZAI: No, I'm not bitter, because I also have to admit that I'm like a man. I've always been raised like a man: independent, always doing things on my own. So to be quite honest, I really didn't have the patience to raise kids, but I wanted it because it's the tradition of the world. You know, husband and wife have kids.

MULLINS: In 2003, Achekzai and her husband returned to Afghanistan to help their country. She said it wasn't easy.

ACHEKZAI: I have made a sacrifice of choosing to come and work and live in Kandahar. Nobody asked me to come. I left my comfortable life in Germany, a peaceful life in Germany, to come and be here. I'm happy to be doing what I'm doing.

MULLINS: What Achekzai was doing was serving as one of four women on Kandahar's Provincial Council. Local men would go to the council to air grievances and petition for relief.

ACHEKZAI: One pride that I'm happy to note is that after this many times, many of the people who come to bring complaints to us, they're old men � but they will come and ask for me or the women to be their representatives for their case, because they've proven. they've seen now that the women are less corrupt and that they will truly hear the voices and requests of the people. So this is my pride. This is what I have done. I'm also happy to note that most of the people who come, they say the next elections they will vote for women, women only, because they see that women are doing a better job, and I'm part of that.

MULLINS: Sitara Achekzai, from a conversation with photojournalist Paula Lerner back in March. Thanks to Stoorai Ayazi for her help in the translation. Sitara Achekzai was gunned down on her way home from work on April 12th. She was 52 years old.