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