Afghanistan: women’s plight may worsen

BEING WOMAN IN AFGHANISTAN: A law permitting Shias to deny their wives sustenance if they refuse to obey their husbands’ sexual demands was quietly passed.

BEING WOMAN IN AFGHANISTAN: A law permitting Shias to deny their wives sustenance if they refuse to obey their husbands’ sexual demands was quietly passed.  

The already dire plight of women in Afghanistan risks deteriorating further as the U.S. and its allies take steps to turn around the war against the Taliban, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

Eight years after the Taliban were ousted from power, rapists are often protected from prosecution, women can still be arrested for running away from home, and girls have far less access to schools than boys, the report says.

Gains eroded

With the insurgency strengthening in the south and making inroads into the north, the few gains made for women’s rights since the U.S.-led invasion of 2001 could be further eroded if Hamid Karzai’s government and the international community push for peace talks with factions of the fundamentalist movement.

Among the examples of abuses against women collected by the organisation was the case of a woman who was gang raped by a group that included a powerful local militia commander.

Although she fought to have her rapists prosecuted, they were subsequently pardoned by Mr. Karzai. Later, her husband was assassinated.

Rape was put on the statute book as a criminal offence this year but it is still not widely regarded by the police or the courts as a serious crime, with the attackers often receiving greater legal protection than the victims. One survey found that 52 per cent of women had experience physical violence, while 17 per cent reported sexual violence.

“Police and judges see violence against women as legitimate, so they do not prosecute cases,” said Soraya Sobhrang, a commissioner at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

Human Rights Watch said that more than half the women and girls in Afghan prisons were held for “moral crimes”, such as adultery or running away from home — although the latter is not a crime under Afghan or Islamic law.

“Whether it is a high-profile woman under threat, a young woman who wants to escape a child marriage, or a victim of rape who wants to see the perpetrator punished, the response from the police or courts is often hostile,” the group said.

Rachel Reid, of Human Rights Watch, said the situation “could deteriorate.”

She added: “While the world focuses on the Obama administration’s new security strategy, it’s critical to make sure that women’s and girls’ rights don’t just get lip service while being pushed to the bottom of the list by the government and donors.”

The report also warns that wives in half of all marriages are younger than 16, and up to 80 per cent take place without consent.

A 13-year-old girl said that after she escaped marriage she was pursued by her husband’s family. Years later she still has not succeeded in getting a legal separation from her illegal marriage and women’s activists have been denounced in parliament for giving her shelter.

Campaigners have also been angered by the murders of high-profile women, including Sitara Achakzai, an activist and member of Kandahar’s provincial council, who was shot dead in April.

A female member of parliament, who cannot be named, said: “I’ve had so many threats. I report them sometimes, but the authorities tell me not to make enemies, to keep quiet. But how can I stop talking about women’s rights and human rights?”

In August, Afghanistan quietly passed a law permitting Shia men to deny their wives food and sustenance if they refuse to obey their husbands’ sexual demands, despite international outrage following a report in the London-based Guardian newspaper about an earlier version of the legislation, which Mr. Karzai had promised to review.

Although western and Afghan politicians like to hail the increase in school building since 2001 as a major success story, the Human Rights Watch report says the participation of girls remains very low, with just 11 per cent of secondary school-aged children in education.

Mr. Karzai, who was reappointed as president after a fraud-marred election regarded by most legal experts as unconstitutional, is due to announce his new cabinet in the coming days.

Human Rights Watch called on Mr. Karzai to release all women detained for running away from home and offer them compensation. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2020 2:13:47 AM |

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