February 8, 2023

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Afghan student who lost an eye in terrorist attack vows to fight for change

It was early morning in Kabul, Afghanistan, when Fatima Amiri first heard the shots coming from her classroom. She and hundreds of other students were preparing for the college entrance exams, but then the girls started screaming in panic. Amiri quickly got up to calm the class down, but when she turned around, she saw a man with a gun who was shooting at students on purpose.

“I was scared; I was trying to shelter under the desks when an explosion happened,” said the 17-year-old.

Amiri lost an eye and an eardrum in the blast. Her jaw was also severely damaged. A total of 54 other students, mostly girls, were killed.

As a minority, Shias have long been targeted and persecuted in Afghanistan.

Amiri lives in the Dasht-e-Barchi district, a predominantly Shia district in western Kabul. Terrorists are targeting Shia mosques, schools, sports clubs and cultural centers. A horrific attack on a maternity ward in 2020 killed 20 civilians, including women and their newborns.

Amiri knew going to school was risky for safety reasons. However, she never imagined that one day a terrorist would try to kill her in a classroom.

Undeterred, Amiri showed up for the university entrance exam two weeks after the attack and was declared one of the top scorers.

“I want to tell the terrorists that no matter how much oppression you put on us, you cannot defeat us!” Amiri said. “Your attacks inspire us to rise again and again.”

The UN Security Council and other world leaders condemned the attack on the Kaaj Education Center in Kabul, where Amiri spent two years preparing for the university entrance exam, but political regimes in Afghanistan had failed to put in place robust security measures to stop it ensure safety for the Shiites, who now feel more marginalized under the Taliban.

In recognition of her courage and resilience, the BBC has included Amiri on a 2022 list of 100 Inspiring and Influential Women from Around the World.

The attack followed a Taliban ban on girls’ schools beyond sixth grade in Afghanistan after the group came to power last summer. But young Afghans like Amiri still hope that the international community will pressure Taliban leaders to respect girls’ right to education and women’s right to work.

“I appeal to the international community to do something for Afghan women and girls,” she said. “Hear their voice and act. Schools for girls have been closed for almost two years. There is a possibility that the university will also be closed. The situation is difficult at the moment. Afghan women and girls cannot work.”

Amiri’s prediction of restricting girls’ higher education was confirmed after the Taliban imposed a total ban on women’s university access on December 20. Five days later, the regime also ordered NGOs to bar women from coming to work. Although the ban on women’s access to education and jobs has been strongly condemned by the international community, Taliban leaders have said they will not compromise.