Category Archives: Afghan Women

Violence Against Women in Afghanistan

Outlook Afghanistan op-ed

25th Nov is marked as the International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women. The day was designated by a UN General Assembly resolution on December 17, 1999. It urged governments, international organizations to generate awareness among public and organize events. The day marks brutal assassination of three female political activists in the Dominican Republic in 1960.

UNIFEM says at least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime — with the abuser usually someone known to her. It says violence against women and girls is a universal problem of epidemic proportions.

Human rights organizations mark the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence from 25th November to 10th December. Activists run campaign and events to fight violence and generate awareness among public in this regard. First day of the 16 Days starts on 25th Nov, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and ends on 10th December, International Human Rights Day. This year’s theme is “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World” highlighting the key roles women play in the family and as peacemakers and peacekeepers in war zones.

Afghan women rights activists are also campaigning through public awareness events. In solidarity, those who join are wearing a purple ribbon, which symbolizes the fight against gender-based violence worldwide. Different organizations are airing public awareness messages through electronic and print media.

Afghanistan has worst records of violence against women. It is the worst place on earth to be women. Our extremely conservative male dominated society with radical socio-religious mindset still think of woman as the so-called symbol of honor for men. Domestic violence is so common that it is considered not only legitimate ‘right’ of men, but normal part of the harsh and corrupt culture.

Among the large part of our illiterate population, husbands consider it their natural right to harshly beat their wives over tiny disputes. Women face violence at every stage of their life, in every relation—as a daughter, as a sister, as a wife and even as a mother in some cases that I have personally documented.

The horrible state of affairs is not limited to the generally considered “normal” domestic violence which is part of life of many Afghan women across the country, but much more. Honor killings are illegal under the Elimination of Violence against Women law enacted by the Government in 2009. But its rarely implemented despite dozens of reported cases of ‘honor killing’. The law criminalizes child marriage, forced marriage, selling and buying women for the purpose or under the pretext of marriage, giving away women/girls to settle a dispute and 17 other acts of violence against women. The very word of “honor killing” shows the collective psychology of our sick society, where killing a woman for “honor” is part of a corrupt medieval cultural practice common today.

According to a report by UNAMA and UNHCR last week, the Government of Afghanistan has failed to succeed in applying the law to the vast majority of cases of violence against women. The report says “there is a very long way to go before Afghan women are fully protected from violence and their equality is properly supported through this important law.”

According to the report, about 290 cases were filed under the law. But the Independent Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan has documented 2299 cases of violence against women that are defined as crimes under the EVAW law from March 2010 to March 2011.

During a research study conducted for ActionAid the past summer in Northern and Central Afghanistan, I documented dozens of cases of violence against women such as murder (honor killing) and rape, that had not only gone unreported, but deliberately ignored by local prosecutors. During the interviews and visits in Balkh and Jawzjan provinces, I documented dozens of cases of extreme violence against women which had been “resolved” through the “informal justice” mechanisms of traditional dispute resolution. Such mechanisms do not give a damn to the law of Elimination of Violence against Women. Part of my research will be published under the theme of women rights with documented cases in a book form soon by ActionAid, an anti-poverty and human rights organization working in about 50 countries.

According to the UN report, many cases of serious crimes under the EVAW law were being prosecuted under the Penal Code or Sharia law. Georgette Gagnon, Director of Human Rights for UNAMA says,

“ensuring rights for Afghan women – such as their participation in public life, including in the peace and reconciliation process and equal opportunities in education and employment – requires not only legal safeguards on paper, but speedy and full enforcement of the EVAW law.”

UNAMA and UNHCR have recommended necessary efforts to raise awareness about the law among Afghan women and men, and that all relevant authorities must apply the law.

We have to admit that violence against women and abuse of their basic human rights is part of our corrupt culture and social behavior. It needs a very effective public awareness campaign and strict implementation of EVAW law by the Government, and intensive media discussions. Every year there are dozens of cases of honor killing documented by human rights groups. But hundreds of such cases never make its news out of the village. In my recent research, I heard stories from women rights activists in districts of Jawzjan and its capital Shiberghan city, where local officials and warlords who are involved in crimes such as rape and forced marriages suppress the cases to get out of the village. I met people who were afraid to talk because of the threats by the very people who are assigned from Kabul to protect rights of those villagers and provide them justice.

In our sick society, women are considered the property of men in their family.  Women are considered as sex tool or bearing machine created for serving their man. I was told about horrible cases and documented some, where young girls were sold or picked up on gun points by warlords. Women are considered as a commodity that can be exchanged, bought and sold in our society.

According to Government statistics, more than 50 percent of Afghan girls are married in early age, 99 percent of family violence cases go unreported. The Government has done nothing in reducing violence against women and improving their rights. Nowadays some friends on internet are campaigning through an online petition for the release of Gulnaz and her daughter from Badambagh prison. As the story has been reported in media, in 2009, 18-year old Gulnaz was raped by her cousin’s husband and impregnated. Later she was charged for adultery. She along with her baby daughter, who was born in prison, have been imprisoned for almost two years. The petitioners call for immediate release of Gulnaz and her daughter from prison. Hope President Karzai will take notice.

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Our Mobocracy

My op-ed on Outlook Afghanistan Oct 18

It is now more than a year, but the parliamentary elections crises still produce a new chapter each time the older drama reaches its drop-scene. The latest victim of this manipulation is female MP Simin Barakzai. She was among the nine MP’s replaced by the IEC decision after Karzai’s decree. Ms Barakzai went on hunger strike after her plea, asking President Karzai to order review of her case, was ignored. She set up a tent camp near the parliament building. After ten days without food, Health Ministry officials declared her health was in severe condition and she could suffer kidney failure.

On the 12th day of her strike, on October 14, Afghan Police in the dark of night dragged her out of the tent, beating supporters, and took Ms Barakzai to Daud Khan Hospital. Some others who had joined her in the strike were arrested and kept in police station for a night.

The Karzai Administration has had two tactics throughout this crises, bribe and use of force. When they saw people flocking in the tent of Ms Barakzai and other MP’s joining her hunger strike, the geniuses in the Palace came with a new tactic. The Ulema Council issued a statement condemning hunger strike as Haram. They said, “It’s forbidden in Islam to reject drinking and eating. If anyone dies because of hunger strike, they will go to hell. Hunger strike is un-Islamic.”

The Ulema Council should be ashamed. They are selling out the little respect left for clerics in the hearts of Afghans. They have never been so quick and active in condemning suicide bombings and slaughter of civilians by Taliban, but a Fatwa against hunger-strike of a female is all a bunch of cowards can do. They are afraid of Taliban intimidation, and none dare to come on TV talk shows to denounce Taliban violence. Isn’t suicide attack Haram in Islam? How about using children for suicide bombing, and killing innocent civilians? How Islamic is that? The Ulema Council needs to look into their conscience. Independent religious scholars should come out to denounce this trend set by Karzai’s Fatwa Factory using the name of Ulema. This Council has become all, but a blackmailing tool of President Karzai being used for his political aims.

Bribing MP’s to form the Coalition of Reformists, or escorting the new ones into the parliament building with help of security forces has been common throughout, but asking the Ulema Council to issue Fatwas about democratic rights is a hit at the core of our crippled democracy and Government’s political cowardice at its lowest.

And that too against a female MP, whose last option was hunger strike, not for a seat in the parliament, which is not worth, but against the manipulation of this system at the hands of those who are in power for the sake of ruling, without any vision and agenda for this country. They could not dare to change a big-shot or any warlord; else we would see how they would threaten to take up arms.

As expected, Daud Sultanzoy did not come late with cheap comments about Ms Barakzai’s strike. He said she is doing it all for publicity. There you go. Someone refuses to eat, announces her will and is ready to embrace death for a cause. For Sultanzoy, it’s all about publicity. It is obviously his own agenda. He wants to get back to the parliament somehow, despite the fact that several reviews by the IEC and ECC could not find any vote rigging in his constituency. He is better off flying an aircraft, not the shameless self-promotion declaring himself as the pioneer intellectual of the nation in a TV talk show. We have not yet forgotten the farce in this ridiculous process of manipulation, when he declared Special Tribunal’s verdict as a Sharia law. Probably Sultanzoy shares the views of Karzai’s Ulema Council on hunger strike being Haram.

I am not arguing whether Ms Barakzai’s disqualification is right or wrong. But she deserves our support because she is setting an example of non-violent political activism by raising voice against a system that is being run with manipulations and force. Something that we have never seen in this country.

The mess started from the day first. President Karzai should have accepted the first ‘final’ decision of Independent Election Commission after the reviews from Election Complaints Commission. We would not have to see the parliamentary deadlock for one year, and crises between the legislature, government and judiciary, setting an example of a system founded with manipulations.

Ms Barakzai’s activism exposes the core problem with our society. We don’t hear about her on media after the tent was removed. Today she is on 17th day of her hunger strike going without food at Daud Khan Hospital. She has not stopped, despite forceful attempts of Government officials to feed her. However, the government should not have feared her. Even if Ms Barakzai dies—God forbidden—it will not make any difference to the dead collective conscience and reaction of our society.

The much gloried Afghan nang and ghairat might tremble, and mark a new example of non-violent resistance in the political history of our country where power struggles have always led to bloodbath. It might fasten the flow of blood in veins of those who still hold their hopes for the future of this country.

Watching the video of Ms Barakzai’s tent being removed amid screams of children, it reminds me of the statement by Rafi Firdous Adviser of Government Media Center who had compared the standoff between President Karzai and the parliament with the tussle between the US Congress and White House. He had said, “It shows the ‘beauty’ of our ‘democracy’.” Some folks have already compared Ms Barakzai’s hunger strike with the recent anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare in India. It’s all ridiculous. Ours is not a democracy, it is mobocracy, where rulers have no respect for rule of law and rights.

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Media Darling in the West, Irrelevant in Afghanistan

My Outlook op-ed April 17.

The bravest woman of Afghanistan”, “iconic human rights activist”, “champion for Afghan woman” are titles you read in media headlines in the West about Afghan activist Malalai Joya. She is a star among the anti-war left circles of the West. Recently she made headlines because of the US visa denial, and lefty pressure-groups made loud noise calling the US State Department to “reconsider” the visa denial. Whatever the reason maybe, though Joya herself calls it political move because of her criticism of the US policies, the denial was indeed condemnable and for good reasons, the US State Department took notice and she got the visa to make tours in the States promoting her book, “A Woman Among Warlords”. However, the visa denial was good for Joya making headlines again. Some anti-war journo activists who make touristic-visits of Afghanistan for “reporting” were loud in the campaign, albeit on twitter, making noise against Joya’s visa denial. Hundreds of Afghans with legitimate application process are denied US visa on daily basis. Some of them are prominent people, some critical of the US policies, while others just simple professionals, but its only Joya’s that hits the headlines and she paints “political reasons” for it.

I have been an admirer of Joya’s courage and bravery. It was indeed a breakthrough when she raised voice against warlords in the first Loya Jirga after the fall of Taliban. And the way she spoke out needs very strong guts. However, this does not make her “the bravest woman of Afghanistan” and “iconic human rights activist”. We have many of such brave women who have not risen to stardom for some fiery and sensational remarks, but fighting against the suppression and struggling for women rights for decades, even during the war, in Afghanistan. Malalai Joya was unknown on national level in the country before that Loya Jirga remarks. After rising to stardom in Western media, she has been quite irrelevant in Afghanistan in the past couple of years. I was surprised to see her name in the TIME magazine in the 2010 list of the “Most Influential People in the World” and Foreign Policy Magazine’s list of “Top 100 Global Thinkers.” Recently the Guardian had placed her in such a list on Women’s Day. There are far more deserving, but not attention-seeking, women activists in Afghanistan, who have served their entire life struggling against warlords and for women rights. A single example is Dr. Sima Samar, who has dedicated her life educating Afghan girls and fighting for their rights in the last 30 years, but never with attention-seeking attempts to make it in any of the top lists of Western media outlets. Similarly, there are hundreds of brave Afghan women struggling across the country in many walks of life nowadays. You might accuse me of any personal dislike and prejudice towards Joya, but recently I read two of the best commentaries on Joya written by Afghan women! The one below I am quoting is written by Noor Jahan Akbar. She explains the reason which I always wonder, why Joya gets so much attention. “The majority of the people I meet in United States of America are unaware of most of the things going on in Afghanistan, which is why bold statements like that of Malalai Joya’s are taken at a face-value and herself as the representative of Afghan women. After her speeches little thought is put into doing research about how much truth they carry and even less time and patience is put into checking whether she has the credentials or the support of Afghan women to be their representative in the world.

Noor Jahan continues,

“unlike Ms. Joya, the majority of Afghan women fear the exit of foreign troops from Afghanistan for valid reasons. The Taliban regime was not only harsh and inhumane towards women, but also men, and also religious monitories or anyone who dared to question their authority. They enforced humiliating and inhumane punishments and took many lives and livelihoods in Afghanistan. Not only the educated elite, as it is sometimes imagined in West, but ordinary Afghans across the country suffered in their hands. I am not claiming Ms. Joya supports Taliban, but her emphasis on troops’ exit makes it seem like she has little care for the consequences of an abrupt exit for millions of Afghans who still have faith in international community’s commitment to Afghanistan.  Afghan women, especially the 43% of Afghan girls in schools, the women who make 30% of university students, the women who make 29% of the teachers, the women who represent 28% of the National Assembly, the women who produce 7.5% of contractual services for the Afghan government, and the hundreds of women in shelters and those who work at civil services organizations, are well aware of the horrific impacts of the withdrawal of [foreign] troops from Afghanistan and would not support Joya’s stand on this subject. Hence, Malalai Joya is not the representative of Afghan women in the world.”

Noor Jahan Akbar rightly criticizes Malalai Joya’s lack of alternative:

 “Given the weakness of the central government and the Afghan National Army, it is clear that power will lend itself to either the Taliban or the warlords or a coalition of both after the foreign troops exit the country. Ms. Joya has no clear idea of how she and others who advocate for disengagement of foreign troops in Afghanistan will be able to provide any security to the people of Afghanistan or guarantee any rights to Afghan women if the troops should exit.”

Who else better than an Afghan woman like Noor Jahan can tell who the bravest women of Afghanistan are?

”the bravest women of Afghanistan are the 23 women who recently graduated as officers for the army, the 150 women who work 10 hours a day on a saffron field in Herat, the hundreds of women who sing songs of protest everyday in their houses to remind their daughters of how much courage it takes to live as a woman in Afghanistan and the tens of women who are sexually, verbally and physically abused everyday in prisons. The bravest woman of Afghanistan is Sakeena Yaqubi who has built a school and a learning institute, or Pashtun Begum, who was a beggar and now provides small business opportunities for other widows. A woman who has lent her voice to politicians might be brave but is neither my representative nor the bravest woman of Afghanistan.”

Like Noor Jahan, there are many Afghan women who don’t consider Malalai Joya their “champion” as dubbed by Western media. Recently another Afghan woman, Nushin Arbabzada, wrote on Guardian about the anti-US rants of Joya. “without the international community’s interference, there would not have been the 2003 Loya Jerga where she [Joya] first gained international fame. Joya’s anti-US military rhetoric resonates with the leftist circles of the west who are her chief audience.” Nushin’s piece on Guardian explains the political reasons of Joya’s irrelevant “activism” in Afghanistan being used by a group of radical leftist Afghans against their rightwing Islamist rivals.

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When I Keep Silent…

Have you ever imagined how horrifying it is to kill someone to death by stoning? ‘Sangsaar’ is the term for stoning someone to death after its been proved she/he is ‘guilty’ of adultery. Here I brought ‘she’ intentionally before ‘he’, because women are the easier victim of this barbaric act of Stone Age. Despite living in this region, where everyday someone is being stoned to death, I have not seen such a terrible punishment live. Once watching the Persepolis movie—which is about the story of a woman in Iran who is stoned to death through a Mullah in a plot by her husband who wants to get rid of his wife for marrying another young girl—it made me cry despite feeling very little of the real pain that one goes through. And I bet that scene will bring tears of any heart with a little feeling. Death with a shot or in a bomb blast is, as we say in local slang, ‘easy death’, because one does not go through all the horrific pain for longer time in a ‘painless death’. But being stoned to death till your last breath is as horrible that even one cannot think of.  It starts with people around a helpless woman take stones and throw by all out force towards the ‘guilty’ and it hits anywhere on her body, from head, forehead, eyes, cheeks, shoulder, breast to toe. First the hands of the ‘guilty’ is tied back and the person put in a small hole. Guilty is not a suitable word, there should be some of the most horrific-sounding words for this. People gather with stones in their hands. Then the Mullah calls “Allah o Akbar” (God Is Great) and people start throwing stones. It’s the most horrible, sick and barbaric punishment for an innocent guilt. But it’s very common in countries like Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Under Taliban rule, it was one of the most common punishments to women in Afghanistan.

Yesterday the terrifying news of a couple being stoned to death by Taliban in Kunduz hit the headlines. According to the half-reported story, the man was married to someone and the woman was engaged. They had an affair. Its not known, how Taliban knew it and arrested the couple? According to the reports, a local Taliban commander brought the couple in the evening in front of a gathering of around 100 people mostly Taliban. He read aloud that the couple has confessed their ‘guilt’. He added, they had eloped and now will be punished. The people started throwing stones and the couple died. I hope the terrifying cries the couple may have screamed out become the punishment for all those to never have sleep in their eyes. But unfortunately, it’s only my hope and wish. The truth is otherwise. Those present at the scene might have felt being ‘blessed’ to have taken part in such a ‘blissful’ event. They think they have earned Sawab (credit or reward) for even witnessing it, and later conveying the ‘lesson’ to others.

A question comes in my mind, why did an engaged woman eloped with a married man? If it was for sex, she was already engaged, or the man was already married to enjoy the natural pleasure. Why did she, despite knowing about a horrible future if caught, preferred to elope? In most such cases, it’s because the girl has been forced to marry someone her parents want, or better to say her father and the male guardian of the family want, because mothers have generally less say in decisions of their daughters. Even in many cases, males too are not independent for their choice of a fiancée, mostly in rural parts of the abovementioned countries. Taliban members can never ever imagine to allow their daughters have a say in their marriage decisions. Though if looking at the religious texts, a girl has the complete right to chose her husband, but only those religious implementations that suit the Taliban are acted upon. When they are not allowed to marry a person they like or are forced to marry an old man against their will, stories such as the couple stoned to death yesterday would be common. Secondly, it’s one of the very few cases of stoning that I have heard the man was also punished. Otherwise generally it’s different. Mostly man manages it to escape the punishment and the doomed woman is punished.

Just last week, there was another such horrible story. Taliban flogged a pregnant woman to death. Bibi Sanauber, whose husband had died years back, was accused of having affair. Some locals had reported about her to the Taliban saying she was without a husband at home for last couple of years, how she could become pregnant. It proves her adultery. She was flogged and then shot dead. For a married one to have extramarital affairs, the punishment is less than that of Sangsaar for adultery. A married gets 100 lashes as per the religious rules. But Taliban, reportedly, gave 200 lashes and then shot dead the woman. And as common, the man was not punished. Maybe because he might have been a close friend of any Talib or might be that he was son of any influential local warlord or could manage to escape.

Just in the past week, there have been several cases of adultery punishment in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. A couple was again blamed of adultery in Pakhtunkhwa (former NWFP) province of Pakistan and the girl was killed, while the man managed to escape. Recently the cover of Time magazine of this month had a photo of an Afghan girl. It started a debate about Afghanistan in media. The story was that the girl was married to an old man as a result of a deal ending the Badi (family animosity) between two families. Girls have always to sacrifice, or must keep silent in such cases. They are never asked for their will. The girl had tried to ‘escape’, but her husband, the Taliban fighter, caught her and brought back. Then cut off her nose and ears. That girl is lucky enough to have gotten the attention of ‘news-hungry’ media and went to the United States for treatment, but there are hundreds of such cases.

And for those of you who are unaware, it might be surprising that  it’s all according to the Sharia codes that Taliban are implementing. According to a narration of a Hadith, “A married man and woman, if they commit adultery, stone them to death. This is a punishment from Allah.” And when it comes to such sensitive topics, it has already been declared not-debatable by the Fatwa-issuing ‘authorities’ of religion. And it’s when I keep silent, burning from inside. I know I can’t challenge it, nor can I oppose and prove it. Thinking so, reminds me the fate of Parvez Kambakhsh or Abdul Rehman, who were announced punishment to death by the legal court of the state! By the way, if adultery is proved, a civic court will also announce the same punishment, that Taliban does. I can only observe silence, perhaps waiting for the time people realize it themselves.

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Preparation for Mass Fraud in Elections

As the election is approaching, concerns about rigging and mass fraud are increased both from rivals of Karzai as well as right groups and media. An intellectual rival Mr. Ashraf  Ghani Ahmedzai has strongly criticized the Karzai Administration for misusing authority. The other day in a press conference, Ahmadzai told he has some evidence that government officials in Laghman and Maidan-Wardak provinces are campaigning for Karzai. A couple of weeks ago  Chairperson of Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Dr. Sima Samar in a joint press conference with UN Envoy Kai Eide expressed concerns over mass fraud. She said that there are women who have received registration cards but the women themselves were not present at the time of registration. She said there might be a fraud in the elections due to this fact. Though Dr. Sima Samar did not provide any specific statistics of women voter registration cards, but she exemplified that in Logar province about 72 percent of the total registered people are women, which Dr. Samar said, is really surprising. Dr. Sima Samar is right to the point. There are chances of mass fraud in the coming elections. How could it be possible that in a province hit by Taliban insurgency such as Paktia, Paktika and Khost, more than 60 percent of registered voters are women? The same had happened last year in Paktika. The entire voter registration book was filled with names of women. According to media reports, actually no women were seen at the polling stations last year, but the registration books were filled with votes from women. Why women? Because they don’t use a photograph and their cards can be easily used as fake or ghost votes. Other than that according to the terms of election by the Independent Election Commission, a candidate to be eligible for the race should provide 10,000 voter cards to the commission. The trade of votes is at good market across the country.

According to voter registration details of 2009 presidential and provincial council elections, women in five provinces have registered more than men. The statistics show in Logar with 72% women, Paktia 64% women, Khost 65% women, Nuristan 71% women (unbelievable at all) and Badghis 54% women and Paktika with 49% women. All these provinces are badly hit by Taliban insurgency. People in these provinces are with ultra-conservative socio-religious mindset. The social norms indicate less participation of women in social affairs. Girls’ schools are blown up. How could it be 72%??? Like 2005, this time the market of ghost votes on sale seems to be with high profit margin. It is indication of preparation for mass fraud on polling day. The Election Commission and the Complain Commission should have already paid attention to the comments of Dr. Sima Samar and claims of Ashraf Ghani Ahmedzai. There should have been an investigation on the huge number of women registration in the insurgency-hit provinces of South. Otherwise the election process would not bear legitimate outcome.

National state-owned media is also acting neutral. It is used in favor of a particular candidate. All contendors are not given equivalent coverage. Freedom of media is the most important factor in exposing the intentions of mass fraud on polls day. But unfortunately our Minister of Culture blames media outlets and TV channels for being financed by “foreign countries”. Mr. Karim Khurram two weeks ago on International Freedom Day had blamed media for taking directions and influence from “foreigners”.

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