KABUL, Afghanistan — The women gave a news conference but requested that no one take pictures of their faces. The office of one of them asked reporters not to publish her name.
It was a lot of secrecy for a media event, but it is a dangerous time to be a powerful woman in Afghanistan.
Police Maj. Colonel Sediqa Rasekh and a number of high-profile women spoke last week at the event to highlight the continuing threat of violence against females in Afghanistan eight years after the hard-line Taliban regime was ousted.
Taliban assassins gunned down a senior policewoman in southern Afghanistan in September, and female government officials regularly report receiving threats from the hard-line Islamists.
So a photo in a newspaper can make a woman a target.
"At some point, we can become the target of an enemy attack, whether it is shooting, or spraying acid, kidnapping or anything. If they don't have pictures of us, they will not be able to pick us out," said Rasekh, who gave express permission for her name to appear in print after her office requested anonymity.
Rasekh said the Taliban has re-emerged as a threat in several parts of Afghanistan.
"The danger has increased significantly," she said.
When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, the hard-liners ordered women to stay home and tend to their families. Girls were banned from schools, and women could only leave the house wearing a burqa covering their body and accompanied by a male family member.
The Afghan government and Western donors have made a major push to increase opportunities for women in recent years, but those females who buck tradition to join the government or the military or just speak out about women's rights put their lives on the line.
"If a woman doing that is taken by the Taliban, of course her head will be taken off," said Massouda Jalal, whose Jalal Foundation works for women's rights in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, Jalal agreed to speak publicly and allowed her photograph to be taken.
"My philosophy is that you are born, and one day you will be dying. So why not die while being an ideal for others?" she said.
The September assassination of the policewoman in Kandahar followed the 2006 killing of a women's affairs official in the same province. The Taliban claimed responsibility in both attacks.
Women's activists say the Taliban targets girls' schools as part of a campaign to show that programs supported by the West are failing.