Tag Archives: Women in Afghanistan

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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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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