Afghan women still face shocking patterns of rape, domestic violence, forced marriage and the routine denial of justice, with the international community failing to protect them in the two years since the Taliban regime ended, according to Amnesty International.
After talking to women in all parts of the country, Amnesty concludes in a report today that violence is widespread in most regions. There is “impunity on an enormous scale”.
The collapse of the Taliban provided a new chance to break with age-old traditions of male abuse against which women were virtually defenceless. But the report says the government has “no clear strategy” to change attitudes and punish abusers. “It has failed to incorporate gender effectively into the national budget or the policy calculations of line ministries,” Amnesty says.
The US, Britain and other foreign governments have also done little to promote better standards. “Key donors supporting the reform of the police and judiciary have failed to ensure their intervention will support the protection of women’s rights. In certain instances, international intervention is perpetuating and condoning gender discrimination,” it says. The post of “senior gender adviser” in the UN mission in Afghanistan has been vacant for most of this year.
The report paints a picture of women being treated as chattel, which long predates the Taliban. Often the only escape from abusive homes for women in forced marriages is to go away with a man who is not a relative. This in itself is considered a violation of the family’s honour, making a woman liable to imprisonment by judges for the offence of “running away”, although the country’s penal code contains no such crime.
The legal age for marriage is 18 for Afghan men, 16 for women. There is, however, widespread evidence of large numbers of under-age brides. “It appears relatively rare for girls to remain unmarried by the age of 16,” the report says.
Amnesty’s researchers found that about 90% of the women in the detention centre in the city of Herat were held for “honour” crimes, usually adultery.
Few cases of rape and other forms of violence are ever reported, but Amnesty says the extent of the problem emerges in hospitals, where scores of women come in with injuries sustained at home. Amnesty heard of women and girls killed by family members for refusing a father’s choice of husband. A doctor in Herat reported that cases of suicide by self-immolation were running at a rate of two every week.
Amnesty says the German government, which is in charge of Afghan police reform, is not giving recruits adequate instruction on violence against women. It also accuses the international peacekeeping force of going on patrols with Afghan police and helping them arrest women for “honour crimes”.