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War at home

November 24, 2011

Afghanistan is the most dangerous country in the world for women, according to a recent study. While the media focuses on sensational stories from the war-torn nation, the situation of women in Europe is far from ideal.

Nazanin, a nine-year-old girl shows her mutilated palms
Nine-year-old Nazanin has been a victim of abuseImage: Yakobali Madani

"I remember the feeling when I saw her after being raped. She was scared," says Nazanin’s mother. Nazanin, a nine-year-old has been the victim of countless rapes by her two uncles. "I want the government to punish him,’’ exclaims the mother, helpless in her quest for justice.

Nazanin was two when her father died. Her mother remarried shortly afterwards into a family where Nazanin’s step-uncles repeatedly raped and tortured the child, sometimes sprinkling hot oil on her to scare her from disclosing her plight to anyone.

Alarmingly high numbers

Nazanin is just one of the many girls whose lives are as conflict-ridden as that of the country they live in. According to data from Afghanistan’s independent Human Rights Commission, cases of violence against women remain worryingly high. In 2009, there were 2,206 cases, 2,765 in 2010 and 2,433 in 2011.

Nazanin shows burn marks on her neck
Nazanin's uncles sprinkled hot oil on her to stop her from complaining to othersImage: Yakobali Madani

Latifa Sultani, coordinator of the Women’s Rights Program says, "The exact and main reasons are the predominance of an insecure atmosphere in the country which has caused women to remain the most oppressed class in Afghanistan."

Sultani strongly criticizes the growing culture of criminal impunity for criminals caused by weak law enforcement institutions. The lack of action by policy makers has added to the problem.

Palwasha Kakar, deputy minister of Women’s Affairs in Afghanistan says that although Nazanin’s case is not an isolated one, the media has focused more on sensational violence stories rather than focusing on punishing criminals. She also says that women’s lives have witnessed a dramatic change for the better after the fall of the Taliban, but there are still some challenges to policy-making on women. The women’s affairs ministry in Afghanistan has no executive rights in this matter, she laments.

Domestic violence in Germany

While domestic violence in Afghanistan could be rooted in illiteracy, poor awareness of women’s rights and poor law enforcement, women in developed countries also suffer their share of abuse. According to Jennifer Rotter of the Berlin Initiative for violence against women (BIG), every fourth woman in Germany is a victim of domestic abuse. The main reasons of violence against women in Germany are unemployment or a family’s dependence on social benefits, says Rotter.

An injured woman lies in a hospital in Afghanistan
Poor law enforcement claims several livesImage: picture-alliance/Photoshot

"For women over 45, when they have a better income or a better job than their husbands, the risk of violence is greater. Added to that are factors like alcohol abuse and less education," she says, emphasizing that "Domestic violence happens in every class, every social situation and condition." According to Rotter, 12-14 percent of women all over Europe are victims of domestic violence. However, what makes the situation in Germany and western nations drastically different from other countries is the support that women and physically abused children can expect the state to provide. All states have counseling centers and shelters where women can seek help and solace while leaving their partners. They can lodge a complaint with the police in the event that they are abused physically, mentally or even subjected to severe financial abuse by their partners.

Afghanistan’s government has also vastly improved its laws to protect women. The Women’s Affairs Ministry, according to deputy minister Kakar "has conducted programs such as educational programs for raising the rate of literacy and workshops for gender equality. These achievements can be more effective in decreasing the domestic violence against women."

Women now have access to civil community organizations and independent commissions. Access to media and a more effective judiciary have helped decrease the rate of violence, says Kakar. Women can go to safe shelters if they are beaten by their family members, she adds.

Symbolbild Gewalt gegen Frauen
Domestic violence occurs irrespective of age, social status or financial situationsImage: picture-alliance / Lehtikuva

Second-class citizens?

According to the Afghanistan Women’s Council, a non-governmental organization working for women’s rights, "States that fail to prevent and prosecute domestic violence treat women as second class citizens and send a clear message that violence against them is of no concern to the broader society."

While the organization does consider the country’s security situation and the plight of its citizens, it believes that domestic violence occurs irrespective of age, race, social or economic status. Jennifer Rotter concurs: "while the family’s economic or social situation could be triggers, they are not the basic reason why domestic violence happens", she says, adding that domestic abuse is dependent on certain structural mismatches between men and women.

Author: Tamana Jamily
Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan