UN: Women have ‘long way to go’ in Afghanistan
Pashtun women in burqas wait outside the district center in Shar-e-Safa, in Afghanistan's Zabul province during a humanitarian aid mission. A recent UN report says the Afghan government is not doing enough to implement laws to protect women.
Stars and Stripes
KABUL — The day after a provincial head of women’s affairs was gunned down in eastern Afghanistan, the United Nations issued a report saying there is still much work to be done to combat violence against women in Afghanistan.
The report, titled “Still a Long Way to Go,” noted that while there has been an increase in reporting of crimes against women, most women still suffer in silence. The report, issued by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, tracked progress since the 2009 enactment of a law that made illegal a variety of offenses against women, including child marriage, forced marriage and rape.
At the beginning of a news conference unveiling the report, presenters mentioned the killing of Najia Sediqqi, who was assassinated Monday. Sediqqi had become head of Laghman provinces’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs after her predecessor, Hanifa Safi, was killed in July.
“Women and children, especially girls, have suffered disproportionately from the armed conflict,” said Nicholas Haysom, a deputy special U.N. representative for UNAMA.
The Afghan government is still working to build awareness of the three-year-old law and the poor security situation has made it difficult to get the word out in some areas, said Fauzia Habibi, deputy minister of women’s affairs. Habibi said the government is making progress, but also faces the difficulty of prosecuting crimes that often take place within the home.
“We have started the awareness campaign, in the newspapers, in mosques, through tribal leaders; we are trying to spread the word about the law,” she said. “It takes time to see the implementation of the law fully.”
Afghanistan has had an abysmal record when it comes to women’s rights. The Taliban virtually imprisoned women in their homes, and even 11 years after the toppling of that regime, women’s role in public life is limited and violence, such as honor killings, common.
Many fear that negotiations with the Taliban, seen as key to ending the war in Afghanistan, will further roll back women’s rights, and one of the UNAMA report’s key recommendations was that high government officials emphasize women’s rights as “an integral part and main priority of peace and reconciliation.”
The report noted a sharp increase in reported crimes against women, though it also criticized government officials for failing to go after perpetrators of violence if they were connected to local police or government officials. In addition, Afghan police still arrest women and girls for running away from home, though it is not a crime under Afghan law, and many police officers and prosecutors still refer serious crimes to jirgas and shuras, village-level committees outside of the Afghan legal system, according to the report.
“It’s important to note that incidents of violence against women still remain largely unreported,” said Georgette Gagnon, UNAMA’s human rights director.
Afghan women’s rights activists went further in condemning the situation for women in the country.
The status of women has actually deteriorated in recent years under the Karzai government, said activist and former parliamentary candidate Shahla Maihandost, who pointed to the recent beheading of a girl in northern Afghanistan who refused a marriage proposal. She blamed the government for not making women’s rights a priority.
“Even in this era of democracy, women’s rights abuses have increased dramatically,” Maihandost said.
Compounding the problem is the fact that some of the perpetrators of crimes against women are the very government officials entrusted with their protection, said Selay Ghaffar, executive director of Humanitarian Assistance for the Women and Children of Afghanistan. In particular, members of the Afghan Local Police, essentially village militias funded through the government, have been accused of serious crimes against women.
“Why, after 11 years (of international involvement) are we talking about the same issues?” she said.