Tag 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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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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