Women in Kabul
(Source: Radio Free Europe)
In many countries around the world, International Women’s Day provides an opportunity to look back at what women have achieved – and what they have lost – over the preceding twelve months. Afghanistan is one nation where women have little to celebrate today. Endemic violence remains a critical problem eight years after the fall of the Taliban. According to a UN report from July of 2009,
violence against women is widespread and deeply-rooted as well as acute. The violence which scars the lives of a huge proportion of Afghan women and girls is rooted in Afghan culture, customs, attitudes, and practices. Afghan women have limited freedom to escape the norms and traditions that dictate a subservient status for females. Women in Afghanistan are also subjected to the violence inherent in armed conflict that has intensified in recent years and is exacting an increasingly heavy toll on Afghan civilians. Violence, in its acute form, makes it presence felt in widespread lawlessness and criminality. All these forms of violence are closely linked to a deeply entrenched culture of impunity that is, in part, an outcome of decades of conflict and indifference to a justice agenda that would also allow for a transition from, and draw a line under, a long history of egregious human rights violations.
… Findings reveal that Afghan women are subjected to an increasingly insecure environment. Women participating in public life face threats, harassment and attacks. In extreme cases, women have been killed for holding jobs that are seen to disrespect traditional practices or are considered “un-Islamic.” … On the issue of rape, UNAMA’s research found that although under-reported and concealed, this ugly crime is an everyday occurrence in all parts of the country. It is a human rights problem of profound proportions. Women and girls are at risk of rape in their homes and in their communities, in detention facilities and as a result of traditional harmful practices to resolve feuds within the family or community. In some areas, alleged or convicted rapists are, or have links to, powerful commanders, members of illegal armed groups, or criminal gangs, as well as powerful individuals whose influence protects them from arrest and prosecution.
Since last summer, a number of high-profile attacks on women have worsened the situation even further. As reported by IRIN News, a number of women have been publicly beaten for attempting to escape from arranged marriages and from abusive husbands. Other desperate women have taken to pouring gasoline over themselves and lighting a match. One hospital in Herat alone registered over ninety self-immolation cases in the past eleven months, resulting in fifty-five deaths. This only goes to show that without adequate enforcement, recent laws designed to restrict violence towards women (which, you have to suspect, have more to do with public opinion in the West than with actual problems on the ground) are essentially useless.
Dr. Husn Banu Ghazanfar, Afghan Minister of Women's Affairs:
"How could we recognize there is any human development when half the population of our country is being subject to gross human rights violations? I believe half the battle is won with the women’s willingness to expose more and more incidents of violence and their perpetrators.“
So why should the rest of the world give any thought to the fate of Afghan women if the Afghans themselves don't seem to care enough to do anything meaningful about these problems? As the UN report states (and as the West ignores at its peril), the status of women
has obvious ramifications for the transformation of Afghanistan, the stated priority of Afghan authorities and their international supporters. To take but one example, that of socio-economic development in a country where 42 per cent struggle to survive in absolute poverty, it is unrealistic to anticipate significant advances when one half of the population is denied participation either at the local or national level.
Click HERE for a vivid video report on the status of women in Afghanistan.