Taliban fighters have kidnapped a female parliamentarian who was travelling by car through Afghanistan's central Ghazni province with her children, a local police commander said on Tuesday, the latest in a string of high-profile, violent attacks on women.
Successive, often deadly assaults on women working in state institutions are fuelling concern that hard-won women's rights promoted by the United States and its allies are eroding as international forces prepare to withdraw next year.
Fariba Ahmadi Kakar's three daughters were later released, the police commander said, but her kidnappers were demanding four Taliban prisoners in exchange for the parliamentarian.
Kakar, a member of the lower house, was the second female parliamentarian to be attacked in Ghazni in less than a week. Her husband denied the attack had taken place, saying she was travelling abroad, but the Kakar tribe's elder, Samad Khan, said attempts were under way to reach an agreement with the Taliban.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said he did not know who staged the attack. "We are still investigating," he said.
Under the Taliban's 1996-2001 rule, women were obliged to wear the head-to-toe covering burqa, allowed only limited schooling and prevented from leaving home unaccompanied.
Restoring the right to work and education has been a cornerstone of the Western-backed government of President Hamid Karzai, but patriarchal attitudes have remained entrenched.
GOING ABROAD THE ONLY HOPE
Survivors of attacks often say their only hope is to leave Afghanistan, still one of the worst places in the world to be born female.
"I need to go outside the country for my treatment and for my security," said Muzhgan Masoomi, a former government worker stabbed 14 times last year. "I was hopeful that the media would help me. More than one year has passed and no organization or media has helped."
Masoomi still appears on the NATO-led forces website in a article headlined "Afghan woman vows to resume government career after stabbing".
Kakar's abduction follows the shooting last week of female senator Rooh Gul, police said. The senator and her husband survived, but their eight-year old daughter was killed along with the driver.
Last month, the most senior policewoman in southern Helmand province, Lieutenant Islam Bibi, was shot dead on her way to work in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah.
Bibi, touted as a rising star of the Afghan National Police, said she received death threats even from within her own family.
While the Taliban have often targeted senior female government officials, honor killings by conservative male relatives remain commonplace.
On Sunday, a woman in her twenties was shot by her husband after going to the market alone, the 11th female in northern Kunduz province killed by relatives this year, police said.
Concerns have also been raised about a rise in Taliban-style edicts in some regions not overturned by the government.
In June, clerics in a region of Baghlan province, north of Kabul, barred women from leaving home without a male chaperone and shut down beauty parlors.
In the same month, female parliamentarians discovered that conservative male members had removed a legal provision that women make up a quarter of all provincial elected officials.
(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni in Kabul and Folad Hamdard in Kunduz; Writing by Jessica Donati; Editing by Ron Popeski)