An Afghan woman has been strangled to death, apparently by her husband, who was upset that she gave birth to a second daughter rather than the son he wanted, police have said.
It was the latest in a series of grisly examples of subjugation of women that have made headlines in Afghanistan in the past few months including a 15-year-old tortured and forced into prostitution by in-laws and a female rape victim who was imprisoned for adultery.
The episodes have raised the question of what will happen to the push for women's rights in Afghanistan as the international presence there shrinks along with the military drawdown. NATO forces are scheduled to pull out by the end of 2014.
In the 10 years since the ouster of the Taleban, great strides have been made for women in Afghanistan, with many attending school, working in offices and even sometimes marching in protests. But abuse and repression of women are still common, particularly in rural areas where women are still unlikely to set foot outside of the house without a burqa robe that covers them from head to toe.
The man in the latest case, Sher Mohammad, fled the Khanabad district in Kunduz province last week, about the time a neighbor found his 22-year-old wife dead in their house, said District Police Chief Sufi Habibullah. Medical examiners whom police brought to check the body said she had been strangled, Habibullah said.
The woman, named Estorai, had warned family members that her husband had repeatedly reproached her for giving birth to a daughter rather than a son and had threatened to kill her if it happened again, said Provincial women's affairs chief Nadira Ghya, who traveled to Khanabad to deal with the case. Estorai gave birth to her second daughter between two and three months ago, Ghya said. Officials did not have a family name for either Sher Mohammad or Estorai.
Police took the man's mother into custody because she appears to have collaborated in a plot to kill her daughter-in-law, Habibullah said. Ghya, who visited the man's mother in jail, said that she swears that Estorai committed suicide by hanging. Police said they found no rope and no evidence of hanging from the woman's wounds.
Boy babies are traditionally prized much more highly than girls in Afghanistan, where a son means a breadwinner and a daughter is seen as a drain on the family until she is married off. Even so, a murder over the gender of a baby would be rare and shocking if proved true.
The US Embassy issued a statement on Monday praising the Afghan government for recent declarations supporting women's rights in the wake of the latest abuse cases that have garnered media attention.
"The rights of women cannot be relegated to the margins of international affairs, as this issue is at the core of our national security and the security of people everywhere," the statement said. It did not address the killing of the young woman in Kunduz.