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AFGHANISTAN: Women Stay Vulnerable to Violence

Sher Ahmad Haidar - Pajhwok Afghan News*

GHAZNI CITY, Feb 8 2006 (IPS) - Gul Zarina, a mother of three, wants divorce from her husband. Sitting in front of the women’s affairs department in this provincial capital in Afghanistan, she insists that maltreatment and domestic violence are her reasons.

”My father-in-law locked me in a dark room without any food and water for three days when I opted for separation from my husband. They are not giving me divorce fearing that I may claim a piece of land,” she says in despair.

She claimed that, in the past four years, her father-in-law had three times forced her into divorce from one of his sons to marry another. ”I have approached the women’s affairs department for help,” she pleads.

Officials in the southern province say they receive an average of three requests for help every day. According to Shukria Wali, chief of the Ghazni women’s affairs department, they try to resolve disputes between wives and their husbands in an amicable manner.

The special rapporteur of the United Nations Commission for Violence Against Women, its Causes and Consequences, Yakin Erturk, expressly said last June in Kabul, that women’s welfare officials must not return girls and women, who escape violence, to their families unless their safety can be really assured.

”Violence against women remains dramatic in Afghanistan in its intensity and pervasiveness, in public and private spheres of life,” she had observed, while urging the international community to link donor support to human rights and the protection of women, particularly.

”The violence has to come to an end,” she had appealed. ”Action has to be taken now to protect women, save lives, if the government is to gain legitimacy and credibility,” she said.

Excessive repression of women began after the fundamentalist Taliban established its rule over Afghanistan in 1998, when girls over the age of eight were banned from going to school and women excluded from employment.

After United States and its allies militarily ousted the Taliban from power in 2002 there was hope that the lot of Afghan women would improve. But now, rapes, murders, forced marriages, family feuds, and abductions by armed men, are driving up crimes against women in Afghanistan.

In November 2005, poet Nadia Anjuman, 25, well-known in literary circles in Afghanistan and neighbouring Iran, died after being severely beaten by her husband in western Herat town. Provincial police chief Nisar Ahmad Paikar confirmed that her husband has been arrested for the murder.

The U.N. condemned the killing of the Herat university student. “The death of Nadia Anjuman is tragic, and a great loss to Afghanistan,” U.N. spokesman Adrian Edwards observed.

Most investigations by the authorities into complaints of violent attacks on women are neither routine nor systematic, and few result in prosecutions, the rights watchdog Amnesty International stated in its 2005 report on Afghanistan.

Violence against women is widely accepted by the community and inadequately addressed by the government or judiciary. Instead, ”societal codes, invoked in the name of tradition and religion, are used as justification to deny women the ability to enjoy their fundamental rights”, Amnesty has said.

There are reported increases in forced marriages and some women have killed themselves to escape, including by self-immolation. The chief of the Ghazni women affairs department admitted to Pajhwok Afghan News that ”female self-immolation is unprecedented in the province.”

In mid-January, an 18-year-old burnt herself to death in the province’s Omri district. While officials did not have the exact details, crime branch chief Wakil Kamyab said he suspected violence and family feud behind the incident.

Abdul Razaq Azizi, in charge of the Human Rights Department, told Pajhwok Afghan News that they were trying to verify the reasons, but an official inquiry had not been ordered into the incident since it was a criminal case.

”These girls are burning themselves to death because they have no other option in life to escape violence,” observed the special rapporteur of the U.N. commission, commenting on the cases of self-immolation in the town of Heart, last year.

”They are committing suicide in order to escape a life full of violence, not only from their husbands or fathers, but sometimes even by mothers-in-law, surprisingly. So being women does not free one from exercising violence unfortunately,” she added.

Under international human rights standards, Afghanistan must exercise due diligence to secure women’s rights, including the rights to equality, life, liberty and security, as well as freedom from discrimination, torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

”We stress that the Afghan authorities have a duty to protect women from violence, committed not only by agents of the state but also by private individuals and groups. Reform of the criminal justice system is integral to the protection of all Afghan women and it is the responsibility of the state to provide legal safeguards,” Amnesty urged in the 2005 report.

(*Released by arrangement with Pajhwok Afghan News)

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