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.