Violence against women in Afghanistan

The safety of women in Afghanistan remains significantly threatened.

There have been several violent incidents against women in Afghanistan even though it is many years into its democratic transition process.

When the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was established in 2001 at the first Bonn meeting, it was a positive signal for the future of Afghan women after a long, dreadful era of Taliban rule. However, later this turned out to be a difficulty for the women of Afghanistan since they were sent to their “own ministry” to solve all of their problems. As former Deputy Minister at Afghanistan’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs Seema Ghani puts it, this was directly related to the mentality of men who don’t believe in women’s rights at all.

In a recent tragic assault in Afghanistan, a 27-year-old woman, Farkhunda Malikzada, was beaten and her body set on fire and then thrown into the Kabul River by a mob of men after it was claimed that she allegedly burned a piece of the Quran, the Islamic holy book, in a mosque. Afterwards, high-ranking Afghan officials from the Interior Ministry said there was no evidence supporting the accusations of burning the Quran and that Farkhunda was innocent. Following President Ashraf Ghani’s order for an investigation, authorities arrested 49 people, including 20 police officers, with regards to Farkhunda’s murder. Chief Executive Officer of Afghanistan Abdullah Abdullah had also paid a visit to Farkhunda’s family and promised to bring her killers to justice.

The verdict in the murder case of Farkhunda was announced on May 6 and among the 29 civilians accused, four of them were sentenced to death and eight others were sentenced to 16 years in prison. On May 19, 11 out of the 19 accused Afghan policemen were sentenced to one year in jail for failing to prevent the lynching of Farkhunda by a mob.

Of course, it wouldn’t be fair to ignore the positive developments made and accomplishments gained for the Afghan women in the post-2001 era. The equal status of women in the Afghan Constitution, the obligatory allocation of a minimum of 30 percent of seats in the parliament for women, the number of girls in primary schools and universities and the sharp decrease in the maternal mortality rate are among the many other accomplishments regarding the strengthening of women in Afghanistan in the post-2001 era. However, it needs to be guaranteed by the National Unity Government of Afghanistan that these achievements are not needlessly sacrificed.

President Ghani’s remark on International Women’s Day gave hope for the future of women in Afghanistan. By stating that “[it] is necessary that we strengthen women’s role from within our civilization and culture,” Ghani emphasized the importance of women taking part in the business and political world and vowed that he will continue to fight until women acquire their rights.

Within this context, it was also announced that a new private university that will serve only female students would be built in the capital of Kabul with the help of Turkey. While there are international organizations and foreign aid providers that help empower women, there are also many nongovernmental organizations that had to leave the country due to rising security problems, especially after the end of the NATO combat mission and withdrawal of the majority of NATO and US troops. The group most adversely affected by this withdrawal is Afghan women.

A recent report released by Amnesty International (AI), a London-based rights watchdog, titled “Their Lives On The Line” says the Afghan government fails to protect female activists who have been the main advocates for Afghan women’s rights. AI interviewed more than 50 female activists and their relatives all around the country and asserted that they are vulnerable to threats, assaults and assassinations. When he took office in September 2014, Ghani pledged to ensure that women’s rights will be respected. One of the steps that needs to be taken in this regard would be the full and impartial investigation of all threats and assault allegations against Afghan women’s rights activists, as was pointed out by AI, and ensuring that the perpetrators would be taken to court.

The brutal murder of Farkhunda triggered a series of events. Both Afghan men and women condemned this act, and they spoke up and held peaceful demonstrations, made themselves heard and urged the government to take strong action against such incidents. In a country like Afghanistan with such fragile security and stability structures, these issues will not be able to create a lasting impact unless they are institutionalized. It is the only way to prevent such a terrible thing from happening again in front of dozens of policemen and only minutes away from the presidential palace in the capital of Kabul.

Originally published at Today’s Zaman on May 25th, 2015

Salih Doğan is a research fellow at the Turkey Institute, a Ph.D. candidate at Keele University and a research assistant at Turgut Özal University.  Visit Salih's website

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