Cost of Honour
Afghan women continue to suffer from serious human rights violations. Medieval mores and practices still persist despite serious efforts by the government and aid-givers that Afghan society should get out of outdated beliefs.
Women in Afghanistan are subjected to social and legal atrocities even after the fall of the suppressive Taliban regime. They are treated like a herd of sheep being taken care of by a shepherd, or as concubines waiting to please their masters. Such a reduced status does not reflect truly on the prestige an Afghan woman is traditionally entitled to, given the fact that the honour of a woman is the most prestigious thing
in a tribal society. But the country has become the most dangerous place for women in recent times due to the continuous political chaos, lawlessness, widespread concocted mores and a history of women suppression.
A global rights watchdog, the Human Rights Watch, has vehemently chastised performing virginity tests. “These so-called virginity tests are not just demeaning. They constitute sexual assault and are often used as evidence against women in court for the ‘crime’ of sex outside of marriage,” it says. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has also rebuked virginity tests and called them “a clear violation of human rights and an indication of sexual harassment and even torture.” The practice of virginity tests in Afghanistan came to the limelight when the commission released its report in 2016 which stated that 48 out of 53 women who were accused of sex out of wedlock were compelled to prove their innocence through a virginity exam. Some of them had gone through such exams three to four times. It was traumatic as well as humiliating for both the victims and their families.
Medical science debunks the authenticity of dubious virginity tests. Rather, a proper examination conducted by qualified doctors is required to get the true picture.
Some actual stories of victims raise doubts about the veracity of the supposed virginity tests. According to Humaira Qarizada who is the manager of the aid group Women for Afghan Women in Lowzjan, a girl who had run away with her lover, was arrested and sent to hospital for forensic medical examination. She was sentenced to three months in prison. Soon she was released when a second test in the same hospital revealed that she was still a virgin. This shows how unreliable such virginity exams are.
Practicing of virginity tests is a part of a bigger problem prevalent in Afghanistan. The U.S. has spent more than a billion dollars on legal reforms in Afghanistan, yet its legal system is ostensibly biased towards women. When the Afghan police bring women charged with committing adultery to the courts, the medically unproven virginity tests are considered reliable evidence against the accused. Similarly, the U.S. government has given over a billion dollars to the Afghan government for the purpose of empowering Afghan women. However, the funds apparently have gone in vain as women are still waiting to see their rights protected.
Sex is a taboo in a conservative Afghan society and women are expected to adhere to social values by not indulging in it. The slightest digression from the values by a woman might result in social devastation, breaking of family ties and, sometimes, even death in the name of honour. The male-dominated Afghan society does not show mercy to a woman who is proven morally-corrupt by some faulty virginity tests. Such a woman leads a miserable life as noted by an Afghan woman who preferred not to give her name, “It’s a big deal in Afghanistan.“Although President Ashraf Ghani has annulled performing virginity tests, the practice is common across the country, posing a gloomy picture of Afghan women.
Afghanistan has become the most dangerous place for women in recent times.