AFGHANISTAN: Sharp rise in reported cases of violence against women

KABUL, 8 March 2008 (IRIN) - Registered cases of physical violence against women and girls in Afghanistan have increased by about 40 percent since March 2007.

UN agencies involved in women’s development efforts in Afghanistan say a dramatic increase in the number of reported cases of violence against women does not necessarily imply that gender-based violence has increased.

“There is an increased awareness among the law enforcement authorities, so it is not [necessarily] an increasing trend of violence - that has always been there, perhaps it is declining - but what is happening is that there are more people coming forward to report; nobody talked about this when it happened within the four walls of a house,” said Ramesh Penumaka, representative of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in Afghanistan.

However, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) said worsening insecurity in large swaths of the country, a growing culture of criminal impunity, weak law enforcement institutions, poverty and many other factors had contributed to increasing violence against women, such as rape and torture - and oppression whereby, for example, they are often forced into marriages against their will.

IHRC’s concerns were echoed in a recent report by Womankind Worldwide, a UK charity, which said 80 percent of Afghan women are affected by domestic violence; over 60 percent of marriages are forced; and half of all girls are married before the age of 16.

“Seven years after the US and the UK ‘freed’ Afghan women from the oppressive Taliban regime, our report proves that life is just as bad for most, and worse in some cases,” said the report Afghanistan Women and Girls Seven Years On released on 25 February.

Gender violence has reached “shocking and worrying” levels in Afghanistan and efforts must be redoubled to tackle it, the country’s human rights watchdog and civil society organisations said. “Our findings clearly indicate that despite over six years of international rhetoric about Afghan women’s emancipation and development, a real and tangible change has not touched the lives of millions of women in this country,” Suraya Subhrang, a commissioner on the rights of women at AIHRC, said.

Suicide, rape, self-immolation

The number of women attempting suicide in the past year was 626, of whom 130 died. Suicide methods included self-immolation, the slashing of veins and taking lethal doses of drugs, according to the AIHRC.

Cases of rape and self-immolation appeared to be going up: “In 2006 we recorded 1,545 cases of violence against [or severe psychological oppression of] women, which included 98 cases of self-immolation and 34 cases of rape, while in 2007 we listed 2,374 cases of violence, which constitute 165 self-immolations and 51 cases of rape,” Subhrang told IRIN in Kabul.

Women affected by poor health services

Not only are Afghan women victims of gender-based violence, thousands of them are also dying and suffering due to a lack of health services in the war-torn country.

Afghanistan is second only to Sierra Leone in the world in terms of maternal mortality ranking with 1,600-1,900 out of every 100,000 women dying in childbirth, according to UNFPA and the Ministry of Public Health.

Every year at least 24,000 Afghan women die due to diseases and during childbirth – 25 times the number of people dying of security-related violence in the country – of which 87 percent are preventable, UNFPA’s Penumaka said.

The UNFPA findings indicate that up to 70 percent of pregnant women do not receive medical attention, 40 percent do not have access to emergency obstetric care, and 48 percent suffer from iron deficiency.

Investing more in women

In his message on International Women’s Day, 8 March, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on governments and international organisations to increase meaningful investments in women and girls, particularly in their education, health and empowerment.

By 2020 Afghanistan is committed to eliminating gender disparity at all levels of education, promoting gender equality, empowering women, giving everyone access to justice, and reducing the maternal mortality rate by 75 percent, according to the country’s third and fifth national Millennium Development Goals (nMDGs).

The AIHRC and some aid agencies are concerned that Afghanistan will not achieve its nMDGs unless strong measures are implemented urgently to reduce widespread violence towards women and improve their access to health, education and other services.

“Only by investing in the world’s women and girls can we expect to reach our destination [MDGs],” said Ban Ki-moon’s message. 

Source: 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]

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