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Women's rights still have some way to go in Afghanistan

December 23, 2010

The Afghan constitution guarantees men and women equal rights. But the everyday reality in Afghanistan is very different. Some local NGOs are determined to improve the lives of Afghan women.

Women are often blamed if they are the victims of rape or abuse
Women are often blamed if they are the victims of rape or abuseImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Almost 10 years after the US-led coalition invaded Afghanistan, with promises of improving the lives of ordinary citizens and especially women who had suffered inordinately at the hands of the Taliban, the human rights situation has not improved that much in the war-torn country.

Dr Soraya Sobrang has been trying to improve women's rights as part of the work of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission.

She says the Taliban continue to violate human rights "not only in Takhar but in Kunduz too, where a woman and a man were recently stoned to death. In the province of Ghor there was an incident where a woman was publicly humiliated by a commander."

The Taliban continue to perpetrate violations against women
The Taliban continue to perpetrate violations against womenImage: AP

Women considered second-class

However, misogyny is not limited to the Taliban. Religious, cultural and family tradition shapes everyday life in much of Afghanistan. Women are often considered second-class citizens. If they are raped or abused, they are usually blamed.

"There are many examples of women being killed by their families in the name of tradition," says Hamid Safwat, the head of the Cooperation Center Afghanistan in Mazar-e-Sharif.

"If a woman is raped for example, the family often wants it to be kept secret at any cost. Some people kill their daughters so that they cannot talk about it. That’s why we opened this 'safe house,' to support women," he explains.

Although the "safe house" helps protect women and even provides them with legal advice, the perpetrators still go unpunished far too often.

Many young Afghan women are at the mercy of their families, who sometimes marry them off against their will
Many young Afghan women are at the mercy of their families, who sometimes marry them off against their willImage: AP

Weda Hamed from the Association for Justice says this has to change: "We want those who have committed a crime to be tried in court. They need their weapons and their power to be removed. Criminals who have been committing crimes for three decades are often not judged. The courts are corrupt and the sentences are inappropriate."

Important not to send out wrong message

Sakina Husain, who is a member of Herat’s provincial council, says it is important to try the perpetrators and punish them so the wrong message is not sent out to the whole population of Afghanistan.

She says there is one group of women who need particular attention: "The wives of fundamentalists experience a lot of suffering. We have to talk about their lives because they are the witnesses of the suffering that has also befallen us."

Although human rights activists in Afghanistan say there has been some improvement in the lives of women, there is still a long way to go. Moreover, they warn that the small political improvements there have been are extremely volatile and could easily be overturned.

Author: Ute Hempelmann and Homeira Heidary (act)
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein