Afghanistan: Violence against women on the rise

Back in October 2001, the US-led invasion of Afghanistan adopted an humanitarian face, professing that the defeat of the Taliban would rid girls and women of an infamously cruel brand of misogyny.

But the Taliban’s violent oppression was not alone in denying the country’s females of their basic right to education, health, inheritance, and physical and emotional safety inside and outside of their homes.

Deep-rooted tribal traditions, including the practice known as baad whereby young girls are traded as a commodity to compensate for crimes committed by their elders, have contributed to the suffering endured by Afghan females. So to has the well-documented crimes of warlords, and the abduction, rape and murder of young girls.

Twelve years down the track, Afghan girls and women are facing an upsurge of atrocities which fill their minds and hearts with terror.

Last year, 2320 cases of violence against women and girls were registered with the Ministry of Women Affairs from 33 provinces.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, however, argues that the national figure of reported incidents of violence against women and girls across the country actually reached 4500 last year.

Back in 2009, the Afghan government approved an Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) Law that criminalises child marriage, forced marriage, the selling and buying of women under the pretext of marriage, giving females away to settle disputes, forced self-immolation and various other acts of violence against women.

However, Ingibjorg Gisladottir, director of UN Women in Afghanistan, expressed concern that only a small percentage of cases under the law involved violence against women. Most such cases were neither registered nor investigated.

A joint investigation convened by the Independent Media Consortium Productions this year found there has been a dramatic rise in crimes against women, ranging from extreme domestic violence, to sexual assault and murder, to their increasing commodification in baad settlements.

As evidence of the spiralling violence, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission reported that, compared with 89 cases of rape and murder in 2011, the number had escalated to 200 cases in the first nine months of last year.

Despite improved reporting rates, little to no progress has emerged with conviction rates.

In 40% of rape-murder cases, the accused have escaped without any degree of investigation.

In instances where police probes were undertaken, the suspects, more often than not with political clout, successfully bribed their way free.

As a case in point, 16-year-old Shakila was raped and fatally wounded with two bullets from a Kalashnikov gun in January last year in the home of Mohammad Hadi Wahidi Beheshti.

A member of Bamyan Provincial Council, Beheshti was present in the house when the incident occurred, but prior to notifying authorities of Shakila's death he disposed of her dead body at the local hospital.

By the time investigating police arrived at the scene, Beheshti had returned home to remove evidence of the incident. He accused his body guard Qurban, who was also Shakila‘s brother-in-law, of the crime.

Qurban was charged and faced trial, but was able to provide reliable witnesses confirming his alibi.

Beheshti became the main suspect, but escaped prosecution with a new story claiming that Shakila's death was a suicide. His second story, a fantasy in light of the forensic evidence of Shakila's rape and murder, was supported by his brother Fokori Beheshti, a member of parliament.

Flawed police investigations, including the failure to finger print Beheshti for comparison with those found on the murder weapon, led the penal division of the local court of Bamyan to shelve the case in May last year.

But, in light of emerging evidence incriminating Beheshti, the court recommended that a new investigation should be undertaken.

Typically, until August this year, and in the absence of any other suspect, Beheshti has not faced a single interrogation. As a result, a murdering rapist, whoever it truly is, enjoys impunity, while a poverty-stricken family devoid of political influence is deprived of justice for the brutal death of their 16-year-old daughter.

Latifa Sultani, the women’s rights program coordinator at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, believes that such latitude is a key reason for the rising sexual aggression towards, and the subsequent killing of, girls and women.

Nafisa Azimi, a social and health professional and member of the Parliamentary Commission on Women’s Affairs, agrees, stating that the failure to prosecute the accused has contributed to the rise in violence against women.

Mohammad Bakhsh, father of slain rape victim Shakila, has written in vain to Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, requesting an end to the impunity accorded the country’s politically well-connected rape and murder suspects. 

Similarly, back in 2012, Ingibjorg Gisladottir had urged the Government to take the lead in ensuring that the EVAW law was fully implemented, stressing the prime importance of both ending the culture of impunity that prevails in Afghanistan and punishing the perpetrators of violence against women for their crimes.

In the interests of justice and human rights, it is past nigh for President Karzai to heed the calls of a grieving parent, and UN Women‘s representative in Afghanistan.

[Dr Lynette J. Dumble is the founder and director of The Global Sisterhood Network.]

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