On December 27th, 2011, 15 year old Sahar Gul was discovered imprisoned in her in-law’s musty, dark cellar by the Baghlan Province Police. Seven months earlier, while living in Badakhshan Province, Sahar had been forced into marriage. The police report stated the young girl had been imprisoned, tortured and violently beaten by the husband and his family because she refused to work and earn money as a prostitute.
Sahar was in critical condition when she arrived to a hospital in Polikhomri. The doctors reported she had multiple injuries from the abuse, including a broken shoulder and head trauma. Her torture included someone pulling her fingernails out.
After stabilization, Sahar was transferred to a hospital in Kabul. Soraya Dalil, Supervisor of the Ministry of Health, told journalists that Sahar Gul’s physical condition should improve in several months, but the consequences of negative psychological shocks may remain throughout her lifetime.
Sahar Gul’s story is only one of the thousands of stories of torture and cruel abuse currently experienced daily by Afghanistan women. Whether defamation or traditional conservativeness, most of these women’s stories will continue to remain untold. Seeking justice for their suffering would only expose them; leaving minimal chances for survival after retaliation from the abuser.
What happened to fifteen year old Sahar Gul, her forced marriage, torture and abuse, is a clear example of violation of women’s rights in Afghanistan. Despite the president of the country visiting Sahar in the hospital and ordering the abusive family to be prosecuted, these cases have appeared thousands of times before only to find the violators have gone unpunished.
This violence against Sahar Gul has been vastly reported by media and human rights activists. Once again, the concern for women’s rights in Afghanistan is being voiced louder than ever. When will violators be prosecuted and imprisoned as punishment for their crimes against women?
Last month, the office of UNAMA (United Nations Assisted Mission in Afghanistan) in Kabul criticized the Afghan government for limited application of the "Elimination of Violence Against Women Law“. Based on a UNAMA report, of the 2,299 reported cases of violence against women recorded between March 2010 and June 2011, only 26 cases were processed. Also in this report, only 7% of violators were condemned to punishment by the Afghan courts.
Enacted in 2009, this "Elimination of Violence Against Women Law" forbids more than twenty types of violence against women, including underage marriages, forced marriages, forced suicide and forbids any exchange of a female to resolve a dispute. Rape and physical attacks on women are also considered crimes for sentencing.
Afghanistan Human Rights Commission states there were 1,026 reported cases of violence against women in the first six months of 2011. In most cases, the women are very afraid to file a complaint, stating there is a considerable chance they will be punished severely for doing so. Another 2011 report by OXFOM, shows 87% of Afghanistan women have experienced physical violence including physical and sexual harassment or forced marriage.
Though incredulous, it is well known that women’s rights violators are not held accountable for their crimes. Based on research by human rights organizations, 39% of people accused of rape and violence against women are supported by locally influential and powerful people. Sadly, they appear to be immune from punishment.
The weakness of judicial system in Afghanistan has led the people to follow traditions and traditional laws, which are all very anti-women oriented.
Alternative solutions for rape punishment, which is prevalent among the tribal Afghan Society are; marriage of the victim with the violator, payment of an amount of money to the victim’s family, accusation of the victim to adultery or killing the victim to clear the defamation of the family. Those carrying out Afghan tribal law do not feel they are subject to wait for decisions by an overwhelmed or corrupt court system.
There are many women who feel their only option remaining to escape the violence is to commit suicide, while many women still hope for a better future through education. Some runaway from abusive homes and secretly find friends to help them.
Based on a 2011 report by women’s rights organizations, the suicide option has significantly increased among Afghanistani women.
“There were 150 cases of women’s attempted suicide since spring this year. 45 women succeeded in ending their lives and the rest are still being treated. We are very concerned about the increase in Afghanistani women attempting and carrying out suicide.”, said Aziza Khair Andesh who is responsible for Civil Society Network in Herat province.
Ms. Khair Andesh believes that the lack of punishment against people who force women to commit suicide has increased the number of additional women attempting suicide. She adds; “Thirty persons accused of causing their woman to commit suicide are not yet arrested.”
Ms. Andesh believes there are a variety of different factors behind the women’s suicides. Chronic family violence, poverty, unemployment, mental illness and illiteracy. She feels it is critical that the government and women’s rights organizations do more to prevent this disastrous phenomenon. The health and well being of all women is important for the future of Afghanistan.
There is often harassment for Afghanistani women wanting to take part in a social life outside their home. A female Kabul University student, spoke out stating how she was threatened to death by Sharia faculty students while attending university.
“The wind blew my scarf off my head. As I was putting it back on, a group of male students were shaking their fists and shouting at me…“This is an Islamic Country, and you should keep your Hejab otherwise we will kill you by our own hands!"
Women face threats, being chased or harassed just by walking on the road to their home.
The female student said she made complaints to the university police against the male students who’d threatened her, but the police stated she was wrong to let her scarf fly off.
“Afghanistani women are teased whether at work, walking on the roads and even during university lessons. One day I was late for my class and I took a taxi to get there, but the male taxi driver turned on a side road and tried to touch me. I fought my away from him and out of the taxi. I shouted for help, but no one came.”
She says that life is hard for her in Kabul and she never dares to walk freely on the streets alone.
“Unfortunately, the governmental entities and judicial branches in most cases take women’s freedom from them. In Afghanistan, when a women is being violated and sexually harassed, if she goes to any government entity to make a complaint, she faces aggression and is considered to be guilty. She is imprisoned automatically.”
The female university student points to the case of Gulnaz, a girl who was raped by a relative. When she reported to the oplice, she was then sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment. She feels there are hundreds of such cases hidden and unheard.
Gulnaz, who was raped by her cousin’s husband and became pregnant, was arrested by the police when she applied to them to make a complaint. She was sentenced to twelve years of imprisonment, but after three years
of imprisonment she was released only on condition she would marry the violator. More than five thousand people signed a petition for Gulnazs’ release.
After the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistani women have been struggling to take part in different areas of social life. Some of the women were told by their families that they did not have permission to leave home and pursue outside activities, but they remained hopeful for achievements and attempted to show their families they could succeed in a job or university lessons.
Ten years have passed since the Taliban era and women indeed have found glimmers of hope for change. They know there are risks and every day many of them face fears of violence and forced marriage. It is unfortunate so many Afghanistani men think pro-masculine traditions of imprisoning women and making decisions for them will make life better in Afghanistan.
During 2011, many women have been stoned or gun-fired by rouge Taliban or other armed groups. The last case on November 10th, 2011, a women and her daughter were considered prostitutes and were shot dead by Taliban after being sentenced to death by their leaders in Ghazni Province.
Last year as well, the Taliban in Badghis Province in North West of Afghanistan, flagellated and fatally shot a 48 year old woman after allegations of an illegal sexual relationship with a man. In Imam Saheb district of Kunduz province, the Taliban stoned another young couple for alleged adultery.
These are only a few of the tragic stories experienced by Afghanistani women. Until the Afghan Judicial system realizes the subjugated violence imposed by traditional Sharia law, there will never be true freedom, or justice, for the Afghanistani people.