The recent incident, in which Zahra Khawari of Kabul university committed suicide, is disheartening and unfortunate, but more importantly, alarming for the situation of students in general and female students in particular at universities. To this end, we call to you, the international community and the Afghan government to ensure protection, safety, and security of students everywhere, particularly for women where they become most vulnerable.
“Nothing can bring back my Zahra jaan. But we can save the lives of other girls.”
That was the call of the father of Zahra Khawari, the ambitious veterinary student from Daikundi, who was found dead in November 2017, as a result of oppression and harassment from her dissertation supervisor at Kabul University.
Medica Afghanistan in cooperation with the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association is representing the family in a suit to fulfill Mr Khawari’s calls for change in higher education. Presently, we are investigating the matter in cooperation with other lawyers and the government.
“Every student, especially if she is a woman, is at risk of various kinds of harassment at higher education. This is a serious issue. This is a constitutional issue. The government is legally responsible to ensure that nothing impedes a person’s right of education. This involves keeping teachers and universities in check. We call upon our government to take their responsibilities seriously.”
Humaira Rasouli, Executive Director, Medica Afghanistan
The right of education and the right of women’s equal access to education is a constitutional right. This means that the government is legally obliged to (1) respect, (2) protect and (3) fulfill this right, failing which, there should be an answer and there should be accountability. Officials need to step up and account for why this happened. The Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE), in particular, should adequately respond to questions by Zahra’s family, civil society and the scores of teachers and students who are protesting against the government’s systemic and persistent failures to protect students.
What went wrong in Zahra’s case? Were there measures at Kabul University to prevent, punish and redress students’ grievances of harassment by staff? And were these measures adequate?
“What’s most important to a student? A safe environment. That is only possible if there are laws and policies which are strictly monitored by MOHE. Laws bring order in a society. They bind teachers, staff and students. They stop the possibility that a person can do a cruel act and get away with it. My role in this case now is to take action and bring reform in the universities so that everyone can get their education safely.”
Yalda Ahmadi, Lead Counsel in Zahra Khawari’s case, Medica Afghanistan
Zahra’s death could have been prevented. We, Afghanistan, lost a bright mind, a potential for the future, a future of Afghanistan where the young can thrive and lead.
As we collective mourn this loss, we urge all to take action. We urge our government to:
Ensure a fair and transparent inquiry into the incident;
Meet the students of Kabul University and really listen to what they need. Involve them in the reform process. They will know what needs to be done;
Make a public apology;
Prosecute and/or discipline all responsible individuals;
Compensate Zahra’s family.
No student should have to suffer the same fate again.