Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, November 24th, 2017

The Anguish of Afghan Women

Afghan women have been highly vulnerable throughout the history. Afghanistan’s patriarchal systems and cultural restrictions pressured women in one way or another. They were deemed as an inferior creature and treated as pariahs. Their social, cultural, and political roles were curtailed on a large scale. Despite the democratic and human rights discourse, after the downfall of the Taliban’s regime, violence against women continue unabated.
It is an undeniable fact that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and their fundamental rights – i.e. the rights to life, liberty, and property – are inviolable. Sexual discrimination is not acceptable in national laws or international instruments. Both men and women should be able to exercise their rights and freedoms without social or traditional barriers.
In Afghanistan, cultural taboos and traditional prohibition impede women’s social and political activities. Tradition holds strong sway in the society, mainly in remote areas where the Taliban’s mindset rules. The Taliban nurtured a misogynistic mentality and treated women with great disdain. During their regime (1996 – 2001), women were not allowed to go out without chaperon. Moreover, they were coerced into wearing burqa (a head-to-toe covering) in public places. The Taliban’s mandate had to be considered as religious Sharia and flouting that would eventuate in severe punishment or death. Women were flagellated or stoned to death in desert courts, which is still being practiced in the Taliban-dominated areas. Despite the collapse of the Taliban’s regime, the radical rehearsals against women continue. The mutilated face of Aisha, an 18-year-old Afghan woman, appeared on the cover of Time magazine in summer 2010. Her nose and ears was cut off by her husband as punishment for running away. Likewise, the death of a 27-year-old woman Farkhunda – who was lynched by angry mob in Kabul on 19 March 2015 after allegedly arguing with a talisman-writer who falsely accused her of burning the Koran – shows conducting sporadic desert courts in the country and men’s harsh attitude toward women.
Afghanistan’s Constitution, which was approved in January 2004, invalidates gender discrimination and considers equal rights and freedoms for men and women. In article 22, it stipulates, “Any kind of discrimination and distinction between citizens of Afghanistan shall be forbidden. The citizens of Afghanistan, man and woman, have equal rights and duties before the law.” It adds in article 24 that “liberty and human dignity are inviolable”.
It is also said in the Constitution’s preamble and article 7 that the state will observe the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Based on these two international instruments, men and women are equal in rights and dignity and sexual discrimination has no room in them.
It is worth saying that with the approval of constitution in post-Taliban Afghanistan, the suffering of Afghan women were palliated to some extent. They play an integral role in social, cultural, and political arenas. Currently, Afghan women are holding the position of minister, ambassador, MP, head of Independent Human Rights Commission, etc.
If women are revered and their rights and freedoms are protected, they will be able to play a paramount role in the society. On the contrary, if they are discriminated on the grounds of their gender and treated unfairly, their role would be curtailed.
In spite of this fact, violence against women is prevalent. Within the past decade and half, a large number of Afghan women were killed in terrorist attacks and suicide bombings. Corrosive acid was sprayed on their faces on the way to school. That is to say, the radical ideology of the Taliban militants is still taking its toll on women’s social and political role.
Moreover, women are subjugated to the patriarchal system of Afghanistan. Scores of people consider women inferior to men. A plethora of women are not able to report the violence inflicted upon them either due to cultural restrictions or not having a rudimentary knowledge about their rights. A woman who told the court about a sexual harassment was called “prostitute” by a policeman. A report released by Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) says that some widows of Afghan National Security Force members killed in action were forced to perform sexual favors for officials before they could obtain pension benefits. A sense of disappointment still permeates the air as a result of unmitigated violence against women.
In brief, women are still susceptible to sexual discrimination and radical mindset. Their plight was not ended despite democratic discourse and endorsement of constitution. It is believed that violence against women originates from radical ideology, arbitrary rule, and traditional culture. For example, the Taliban’s misogynistic approach rooted in their dogmatic beliefs, the adherents of patriarchal system restrict women’s role, and traditional custom stereotype women unfairly.

To eradicate sexual discrimination, the government will have to strengthen the fledgling democratic system and broaden the horizon of the public through spreading awareness about women’s status so that they could exercise their rights and freedoms without encumbrance. Moreover, since the harsh practices against women are at odds with religious tenets, enlightening women’s rights and dignity from Islamic perspective is an imperative. The nation also needs to eschew from practicing upon absurd tradition and stop their reprehensible attitude toward women – who are in a really deplorable state. These issues seem the only feasible panacea for the sufferings of Afghan women.