A new Afghan law will allow men to attack their wives, children and sisters without fear of judicial punishment, undoing years of slow progress in tackling violence in a country blighted by so-called "honour" killings, forced marriage and vicious domestic abuse.
The small but significant change to Afghanistan's criminal prosecution code bans relatives of an accused person from testifying against them. Most violence against women in Afghanistan is within the family, so the law – passed by parliament but awaiting the signature of the president, Hamid Karzai – will effectively silence victims as well as most potential witnesses to their suffering.
Betrothal of girls is pervasive in Afghanistan. According to the Ministry of Public Healths Mortality Survey that was conducted in all provinces of the country in 2010, 53 percent of all women in the 25 to 49 age group were married by age 18, and 21 percent were married by age 15. A report on Child Marriage in Southern Asia conducted by the International Center for Research on Women, Australian Aid and UNFPA states that 57 percent of Afghan girls are married before they turn 16 and 60 to 80 percent of them were forced into such unions by their families.
As shown in this report the recorded statistics on violence against women during the first six months of the current year has reached a shocking number of 4154 cases.
This figure indicates an increase of nearly 25 percent compared to the number of violence against women recorded in the first six months of the previous year. However, this increase could be due to increased public confidence in the AIHRC’s offices, but can be caused by other factors such as increased violence against women and the public's distrust of judicial authorities as well.
In any way, this high figure of violence against women in the first half of this year is very shocking and a matter to be pondered upon. Especially when we see that over 30% of the figures are physical violence, especially beating, slapping, kicking and throwing stones, the issue becomes more and more worrying because physical violence against women is the naked (harsh) form of violence against women.
A couple of months ago I went back to my native Afghanistan after a year living in Britain. From the sedate surroundings of York University I've found myself back in bustling Kabul - back to the traffic jams, the construction projects and the crazy rush hour. Quite a change.
What has amazed me most upon my return is the massive difference between the realities of life at home and the way that Afghan women are more often than not portrayed in foreign media, which tends to focus on the sorrows, failures and victimised faces of Afghan women.
Afghanistan’s proposed reinstatement of atrocious punishments would mark a dangerous return to legalized state brutality, Amnesty International said today as it urged the authorities to reject such plans.
Public stoning to death, amputation of limbs and flogging are among the brutal punishments being put forward as draft amendments to the Afghan Penal Code.
“Stoning and amputation are always torture, and so is flogging as practised in Afghanistan. All these forms of punishment are strictly prohibited under international human rights treaties which are binding on Afghanistan,” said Horia Mosadiq, Afghanistan Researcher at Amnesty International.
It is the latest in a string of encroachments on hard-won rights for women, after parliament quietly cut the number of seats set aside for women on provincial councils, and drew up a criminal code whose provisions will make it almost impossible to convict anyone for domestic violence.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) “has been until now”, said Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), “a critical, credible institution.” That ‘until now’ is significant: Pillay was visiting Afghanistan partly to discuss the risk to the Commission of losing its ‘A status’ when it comes up for international accreditation in November. The problem is the flawed way new commissioners were appointed earlier this year. Pillay said she had received no assurances from President Karzai that he might revisit those appointments. AAN’s Sari Kouvo and Kate Clark report.
The Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), the Violence is Not our Culture Campaign (VNC), and the Women Living under Muslim Laws international solidarity network (WLUML) strongly condemn the killing of Indian writer and activist Sushmita Banerjee outside her home in Paktika Province, Afghanistan.
In some countries, power comes with age, but not in Afghanistan where wholesale denial of rights and opportunities are imposed against women throughout their life spectrum. With a society that supports gender-based oppression and an economy that is held hostage by armed conflict, corruption, weak human resources, and wayward politics, Afghanistan may be the worst place in the world for women to grow old.