Women’s rights trampled despite new law
KABUL, 8 March 2010 (IRIN) - As the world marks
International Women’s Day, ambivalence, impunity, weak
law enforcement and corruption continue to undermine
women’s rights in Afghanistan, despite a July 2009 law
banning violence against women, rights activists say.
A recent case of the public beating of a woman for
alleged elopement - also shown on private TV stations
in Kabul - highlights the issue.
In January domestic violence forced two young women
to flee their homes in Oshaan village, Dolaina
District, Ghor Province, southwestern Afghanistan. A
week later they were arrested in neighbouring Herat
Province and sent back to Oshaan, according to the
governor of Ghor, Mohammad Iqbal Munib.
“One woman was beaten in public for the elopement
and the second was reportedly confined in a sack with
a cat,” Munib told IRIN.
According to the governor, the illegal capture of
the women was orchestrated by Fazul Ahad who leads an
illegal armed militia group in Dolaina District.
Locals say Ahad, a powerful figure who backed
President Hamid Karzai in the August 2009 elections,
has been running Oshaan as his personal fiefdom.
“When the roads reopen to Dolaina [closed by snow]
we will send a team to investigate,” said the
governor, adding that he was concerned that arresting
Ahad could cause instability. “We have asked the
authorities in Kabul for support and guidance.”
IRIN was unable to contact Fazul Ahad and verify
“I poured fuel over my body and set myself ablaze
because I was regularly beaten up and insulted by my
husband and in-laws,” Zarmina, 28, told IRIN. She,
along with over a dozen other women with
self-inflicted burns, is in Herat’s burns hospital
Over 90 self-immolation cases have been registered
at the hospital in the past 11 months; 55 women had
died, doctors said.
“People call it the `hospital of cries’ as patients
here cry out loudly in pain,” Arif Jalali, head of the
hospital, told IRIN.
Beneath the cries lie cases of domestic violence
and/or disappointment with the justice system.
“Self-immolation proves that the justice system for
female victims is failing,” said Movidul-Haq Mowidi, a
human rights activist in Herat.
Barriers to justice
Despite laws prohibiting gender violence and
upholding women’s rights, widespread gender
discrimination, fear of abuse, corruption and other
challenges are undermining the judicial system,
“Women are denied their most fundamental human
rights and risk further violence in the course of
seeking justice for crimes perpetrated against them,”
stated a report by the UN Assistance Mission in
Afghanistan on the situation of Afghan women in July
Orzala Ashraf, a women’s rights activist in Kabul,
blames the government: “Laws are clear about crimes
but we see big criminals thriving and being nurtured
by the state for illicit political gains,” she told
IRIN, pointing to the government’s alleged failure to
address human rights violations committed over the
past three decades of conflict.
“Because no one is put on trial for his crimes, a
criminal culture is being promoted: violators have no
fear of the law, prosecution and a meaningful
penalty,” said Ashraf.
Deep-seated ambivalence to women’s rights is
evident from a law signed off by President Hamid
Karzai in early 2009: The Shia Personal Status Law,
dubbed a ‘rape legalizing law’, was amended after
strong domestic and international pressure.
“The first version [of the law] was totally
intolerable,” said Najia Zewari, a women’s rights
expert with the UN Fund for Women (UNIFEM). “Despite
positive changes in the final version, there are
articles that still need to be discussed and reviewed
further,” she said.
Another example of this ambivalence is the case of
the men who threw acid in the faces of 15 female
students in Kandahar city in November 2008: Karzai
publicly vowed they would be “severely punished” but
court officials in Kandahar and Kabul have said they
are unaware of the case and do not know where the
alleged perpetrators are.
“Judges say the men were wrongly accused and forced
to confess,” Ranna Tarina, head of Kandahar women’s
affairs department, told IRIN.
Over the past two years more than 1,900 cases of
violence against women in 26 of Afghanistan’s 34
provinces - from verbal abuse to physical violence -
have been recorded in a database run by the Ministry
of Women’s Affairs and UNIFEM.
One recorded case is the murder, by her in-laws in
Parwan Province north of Kabul, of a young woman who
had refused to live with her abusive husband. Another
is the regular physical and mental torture meted out
to a woman by her husband and mother in-law in Kabul.
“The database does not give a perfect picture but
it helps to highlight some of the common miseries of
Afghan women,” UNIFEM’s Najia Zewari told IRIN.
UNIFEM is keen to make the database publicly
available on the internet.
“Violence against women is not a new phenomenon in
Afghanistan but it is good to see crimes do not remain
confined to a home and a village,” said activist
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a
project the Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and
information service, but may not necessarily reflect
the views of the United Nations or its agencies.
[This report does not necessarily
reflect the views of the United Nations]