Tor­tured Lives

Do­mes­tic abuse and hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions plague the lives of Afghan women. Will they ever be treated as equals?

Southasia - - Contents - By Kinza Mu­jeeb

The in­creas­ing vi­o­lence against women in Afghanistan is both dis­con­cert­ing and ap­palling. With U.S and NATO troop with­drawal im­mi­nent and joint dis­cus­sions tak­ing place be­tween the Afghan gov­ern­ment and the Tal­iban, the con­cern for women’s rights has never been more ur­gent.

Re­cently, a woman named Es­toray was stran­gled by her hus­band for giv­ing birth to a third girl rather than the much-de­sired son. This episode, though com­mon in parts of Afghanistan, es­pe­cially the south, shook many in­ter­na­tional ob­servers to the core. The fact that Es­toray’s moth­erin-law was equally in­volved in the bru­tal act, by hold­ing her legs while her son com­mit­ted the deed, pro­vides an in­sight into a prim­i­tive mind­set. More un­set­tling is the con­vic­tion with which many be­lieve they fol­low true Is­lamic tra­di­tions, when in re­al­ity they mimic the life­styles of the peo­ple from the ‘age of ig­no­rance.’

Over the past ten years, the term ‘Mus­lim’ seems to have be­come syn­ony­mous with ‘ter­ror­ists.’ Fur­ther­more, sto­ries of such heinous crimes only re­in­force the im­age of Is­lam as a bru­tal and bar­baric re­li­gion. In re­al­ity, Is­lam was the first re­li­gion to give

women their due share of re­spect, rights and recog­ni­tion. How­ever, over the years, Mus­lims have grown dis­tant from their own re­li­gion, treat­ing the words of God as re­fresh­ments served at a buf­fet party; de­vour­ing on things they like and ig­nor­ing the things that are dif­fi­cult for them to di­gest. More­over, the trend of de­pend­ing more on the spo­ken word and tra­di­tions rather than ac­tu­ally read­ing and in­ter­pret­ing the Qu­ran has fur­ther pushed Mus­lims to form a rigid ex­te­rior.

It would be par­tially true to state that the con­di­tions of women have im­proved since the fall of the Tal­iban. Women to­day are no longer forced to wear a burqa by the gov­ern­ment and are rel­a­tively free to work. Around 4 mil­lion girls are cur­rently re­ceiv­ing ba­sic and higher ed­u­ca­tion. Though the ma­jor­ity of ar­eas re­main iso­lated and girls’ ed­u­ca­tion has not gath­ered as much sup­port as was an­tic­i­pated, the mere fact that even a frac­tion re­ceive higher ed­u­ca­tion is com­mend­able.

More­over, Fawzia Koofi, an Afghan MP, has emerged as an iconic fig­ure for all Afghani women. Speak­ing out against the mis­treat­ment of women in Afghanistan, Koofi has been tar­geted nu­mer­ous times by the Tal­iban. She con­tin­ues to ad­vo­cate for women’s rights and is now ex­pected to con­test elec­tions as the coun­try’s first fe­male Pres­i­dent.

A num­ber of hu­man rights ac­tivists have also sprung up, ad­vo­cat­ing for the pro­tec­tion of women’s rights. The Con­ven­tion on the Elim­i­na­tion of All Forms of Dis­crim­i­na­tion against Women (CEDAW) has also held nu­mer­ous con­fer­ences to draw at­ten­tion to the griev­ances faced by Afghan women.

The Rev­o­lu­tion­ary As­so­ci­a­tion of the Women of Afghanistan, es­tab- lished since 1977, is still strug­gling to pro­vide jus­tice and equal­ity to women in the coun­try. The es­tab­lish­ment of the Min­istry for Wom­ens Af­fairs as well as the guar­an­tee of equal rights for men and women ac­cord­ing to the new con­sti­tu­tion added new rays of hope into the bleak re­al­i­ties of their lives. Un­for­tu­nately, the gov­ern­ment has de­liv­ered lit­tle.

How­ever, to con­trol the ex­tent of re­pres­sion and tor­ture, an av­er­age woman ex­pe­ri­ences is a chal­leng­ing task for the gov­ern­ment as well as NGOS. Phys­i­cal, sex­ual or psy­cho­log­i­cal vi­o­lence in­clud­ing forced mar­riages, con­sti­tute 87 per­cent of Afghani women, ac­cord­ing to Bri­tish char­ity, Ox­fam. Gov­ern­ment sta­tis­tics re­veal that 99 per­cent of cases con­cern­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence are not brought to the con­cerned au­thor­i­ties. More­over, in­stances of rape are ex­tremely preva­lent yet, due to the so­cial stigma at­tached to rape and the rare chance of ob­tain­ing jus­tice, most cases re­main un­re­ported.

The ‘Elim­i­na­tion of Vi­o­lence Against Women’ law im­posed by the Gov­ern­ment in 2009, deems honor killings il­le­gal. How­ever, the rare im­ple­men­ta­tion of this law proves that Afghanistan is still miles away from el­e­vat­ing the sta­tus of women. UNAMA and UNHCR re­ports re­veal that the Afghan gov­ern­ment failed to im­ple­ment these laws put in place to pro­tect the rights of women.

News sto­ries re­cently pro­filed a fif­teen year old child bride, Sa­har Gul, who had been locked in the toi­let and was a vic­tim of con­tin­u­ous beat­ings and tor­ture at the hands of her in-laws. Four­teen year old Samia was gang raped by war­lords in North­ern Afghanistan and upon dis­clos­ing the event in or­der to at­tain jus­tice, the war­lords held her brother and fa­ther cap­tives. Me­dia, on the other hand merely pub­li­cized such hellish events, while rarely pro­vid­ing jus­tice to any vic­tims.

In com­par­i­son to the level of marginal­ity and tor­ture Afghan women face on a daily ba­sis, lit­tle has been done to uplift their sta­tus in so­ci­ety. There are only 19 shel­ters for an alarm­ing num­ber of vic­tims in Afghanistan. Many find shel­ter be­hind the dread­ful bars of prison, which also in­clude the con­stant threat of rape and phys­i­cal as­sault. It is there­fore a pre­dictably grim re­al­ity that the only way to achieve free­dom from the pains and suf­fer­ing of their daily lives is in the arms of death. Re­ports re­veal that a vast num­ber of women, ma­jor­ity of whom are in their early twen­ties, find es­cape through ei­ther poi­son­ing or self-im­mo­la­tion.

The tense re­la­tion­ship be­tween hu­man right work­ers and lo­cal Afghans can be un­der­stood us­ing New­ton’s law which sug­gests that ev­ery ac­tion has an equal and op­po­site re­ac­tion. Ap­ply­ing this law to their sit­u­a­tion re­veals that the abun­dance of vi­o­lence against women has at­tracted many hu­man right ac­tivists and NGOS. On the other hand, the pres­ence of for­eign­ers with their for­eign val­ues has fur­ther forced Afghan men to hold fast to their tra­di­tions, for they be­lieve that their ‘pi­ous’ way of liv­ing is be­ing at­tacked by the NGOS. An an­tag­o­nis­tic re­la­tion­ship will only di­min­ish with proper com­mu­ni­ca­tion. More­over, ed­u­ca­tion will help di­lute the ex­trem­ist views of Afghans. There is a dire need for an at­ti­tude change, for the root cause of these prob­lems lie deep within the mind­set of Afghans.

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