It was an early morning in Kabul, Afghanistan, when Fatima Amiri heard gunshots coming from inside her classroom. She and hundreds of other students were preparing for college entrance exams at the time, but then the girls started screaming in panic. Amiri quickly stood up to calm the class, but when she turned around, she saw a gunman deliberately firing at the students.
“I was scared; I tried to take shelter under the table when the explosion happened,” said the 17-year-old.
Amiri lost an eye and an earring as a result of the explosion. Her jaw was also severely damaged. In all, 54 other students, mostly girls, were killed.
As a minority, Shiites have long been targeted and persecuted in Afghanistan.
Amiri lives in the area around Dasht-e-Barchi, a predominantly Shia neighborhood in western Kabul city. Terrorists have targeted Shia mosques, schools, athletic clubs and cultural centers. In 2020, a horrific attack on a maternity ward killed 20 civilians, including women and their newborns.
Amiri knew that going to school was dangerous from a security point of view. However, she never thought that one day a terrorist would try to kill her inside the classroom.
Undeterred, two weeks after the attack, Amiri appeared for the university entrance exam and was declared one of the top scorers.
“I want to tell the terrorists that no matter how much oppression you put on us, we cannot be defeated!” Amiri said. “Your attacks inspire us to rise again and again.”
The UN Security Council and other world leaders condemned the attack on Kabul’s Kaz Education Center, where Amiri went for two years to prepare for university entrance exams, but Afghanistan’s political regimes have taken no robust security measures to ensure it. The safety of Shias, who are now increasingly marginalized under the Taliban.
In recognition of her courage and resilience, the BBC named Amiri one of the 100 most inspiring and influential women around the world for 2022.
The attack comes as the Taliban banned schools for girls beyond the sixth grade in Afghanistan after the group came to power last summer. But young Afghans like Amiri still hope the international community will pressure Taliban leaders to respect girls’ rights to education and the rights of working women.
“I appeal to the international community to do something for Afghan women and girls,” she said. “Hear their voices and take action. It’s been almost two years since the girls’ schools were closed. The university is also likely to be closed. Currently, the situation is dire. Afghan women and girls cannot work.
Amiri’s prediction of a ban on higher education for girls has been vindicated since the Taliban imposed a total ban on women’s admission to university on December 20. Five days later, the administration ordered NGOs to prevent women from coming to work. Although the ban on women’s access to education and employment has drawn strong condemnation from the international community, Taliban leaders have said they will not compromise.