The story of a woman being lynched in Afghanistan has now sparked a movement against religion-sanctioned oppression of women there. The First Lady of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Rula Ghani, narrated the events at an introductory session of a two-day international conference on “Gender, community and violence: changing mindsets for empowering the women of South Asia” organised here on Wednesday.

Ms. Ghani is in Delhi two weeks ahead of Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani’s first State visit here later this month.

Farkhunda, the 27-year-old woman from Kabul, was falsely accused of burning the Koran and beaten and stoned to death by a mob. Ms. Ghani said Farkhunda met with this end for daring to confront the sellers of amulets in the courtyard of the Shahe Do Shamsira Mosque and blaming them for taking advantage of the vulnerability of worshippers in search of comfort and salvation. Her death led to huge protests and a strong demand for investigation led by women’s groups.

The protests also evoked a strong response from Afghanistan’s acting Minister for Religious Affairs Daiulhaq Abid, who reportedly said: “Not everyone who wears a turban is a legitimate religious scholar.” The incident also led to condemnation of policemen, who remained silent spectators to her death. As a result, the head of the Independent Human Rights Commission called for the need to educate soldiers and policemen to protect citizens.

Quoting a leading Afghanistan journalist, Ms. Ghani said: “In a country where warlords and battlefield heroes were celebrated as national icons suddenly Farkhunda had become a symbol for justice and women’s rights.” As a result, Afghan women are now confronting sexual harassment on the streets with the slogan ‘man Farkhunda hastum’ (I am Farkhunda)

Encouraging women to participate in politics and opening up educational opportunities for them played a crucial role in the mobilisations, Ms. Ghani said. Afghanistan now has 20 female senators and 69 women representatives in the National Assembly.

Shinkai Karokhail, member of the National Assembly of Afghanistan, told The Hindu that several years of war and conflict had created a politically unstable situation in their country with security remaining a challenge. “The ongoing tussle for power between two political groups poses a challenge for government formation. Despite numerical representation, women’s ability to make meaningful change is challenged,” she said, adding that the withdrawal of the U.S. troops has only further emboldened groups such as the Taliban.

Veena Sikri, convenor of the South Asia Women’s Network, said delegates from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are putting together a set of recommendations on curriculum changes to incorporate chapters on respecting women in school textbooks to be submitted to the respective governments.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj hosted a dinner reception for the Afghan women delegation on Tuesday evening. Wednesday’s programme was organised by the Dr. K.R. Narayanan Centre for Dalit and Minorities Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia and the South Asia Women’s Network.