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Brutally Murdered Afghan Woman Becomes Symbol for Women's Rights

Last month, 27-year-old Farkhunda was falsely accused of burning the Koran then brutally murdered after standing up for her beliefs in front of a shrine attendant in Kabul, Afghanistan. She's now being held up as a champion of Islam and women's rights.

Farkhunda, who was an Islamic law student, decided to speak up against the practice of mullahs selling tahwiz, which are verses from the Koran that are said to bring good luck. Farkhunda said the practice was un-Islamic. The shrine attendant then began to shout that Farkhunda was an infidel who had burned the Koran, she was also accused of being mentally ill - both accusations were later said to be false. A crowd of hundreds of men beat her and set fire to her body.

"This is heartbreaking - she was innocent and she was a woman," said Fawzia Koofi, a women's rights activist and politician who is also on the investigation team created by the Afghan president. "This happened to her because of her gender."

But now, weeks after the incident, Farkhunda is being called a martyr among women's rights and Islamic people alike who believe the woman was unjustly killed for speaking up for her beliefs. The beatings were caught in cell phone videos and led to an uproar on social media. A group of all women carried Farkhunda's coffin at her funeral, which breaks the tradition that has men carrying the coffin.

"Farkhunda was a true Muslim, a religious hero," said Shahla Farid, a Kabul University law lecturer and a part of the team appointed by the Afghan president to investigate Farkhunda's death. "Here a woman challenged a man and defended Islam." Women in Afghanistan are hopeful that these protests shed light on the injustices women face. "She has improved the status of women in Islam and in our community," Farid said. "I believe Farkhunda is now giving more hope to more women."

But while these protests are encouraging, they do not end a culture that perpetuates violence against women in Afghanistan. "After more than a decade of efforts to improve the standing of Afghan women, violence against them occurs across much of the country with impunity," writes Joseph Goldstein of The New York Times. "A man's accusation against a woman is often the final word, as it was here last [month]."

The shrine attendant, along with 47 other people - including 19 police officers - were arrested in connection to the murder. Afghanistan's Religious Affairs Ministry pledged to stop the selling of tahwiz, and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani met with Farkhunda's family to offer condolences. President Ghani says there is no question that Farkhunda was innocent, and 12 attorneys have been assigned to review Farkhunda's case.

Farid's female students tell her that it horrified them to see how quickly a mob of angry men formed to beat Fakhunda. Farid said one of her students told her, "How can I sit here in class with boys? I'm afraid of them."

Media Resources: Tolo News 4/6/2015; The New York Times 3/29/2015; Office of the President Islamic Republic of Afghanistan 4/2/2015

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