A social scientist working to improve the lot of women and children in Afghanistan was among 13 people killed Thursday in an attack on a guesthouse in Kabul. The attack on the Park Palace Hotel killed 14 people; the Taliban has claimed responsibility, adding that the hotel was selected because foreign dignitaries were expected to be present.
Those dignitaries included Paula Kantor, a gender and development specialist serving as a consultant for the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (known by its Spanish acronym CIMMYT, and an arm of CGIAR, formerly the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research). Many of the dead were thought to be working on development or humanitarian projects, according to the Washington Post. The lone known attacker, outfitted with an AK-47, grenades, a pistol and a suicide vest, also died.
“These deliberate attacks on civilians are atrocities,” said Georgette Gagnon, the human rights director of the United Nations’ missing in Afghanistan, adding that they put the lie to the Taliban’s claim to be sensitive to harming civilians.
On its website, CIMMYT said Kantor was leading a new project “aimed at empowering and improving the livelihoods of women, men and youth in important wheat –growing areas of Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Pakistan.”
“Paula was a key pillar in our gender work and dear friend to many of us,” CIMMYT gender specialist Lone Badstue said of the 46-year-old from North Carolina. “It was a privilege to work with he. She had a strong passion for ensuring her work made a difference.”
The Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, which Kantor head from 2008 to 2010, also hailed her instincts to “make a difference.”
“Paula gave her life here – like many other selfless heroes – to make sure millions of people, especially women, get a chance at a better life. She was aware of the risk she was taking to serve in conflict and terror-affected places. While we grieve her loss, we shall never forget the cause she gave her life for.”
Before starting with CIMMYT in February, Kantor had worked for two years with another CGIAR organization, WorldFish, and for two years before that with the International Center for Research on Women in Washington, D.C.
She has earned a Ph.D. in international economic development and gender from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison before entering the field. She earned a bachelor’s in economics from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and a master’s in gender and development from the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex. She has published widely.
Kantor is survived by her parents and siblings.