Gaining a Moral High Ground in Afghanistan?


In the past 18 months, the number of women and girls imprisoned for “moral crimes” in Afghanistan has risen by 50%, according to Human Rights Watch. This number (approximately 600 women and girls in 2012 alone) is the highest since the United States-led overthrow of the Taliban twelve years ago.

A report released by Human Rights Watch says that approximately 95 percent of girls and 50 percent of women were accused of the “moral crime” of running away or of having sex outside of marriage. Most often, these adultery charges involve rape and those running away from home are running from unlawful forced marriage and/or domestic violence.

In interviews, many women who were imprisoned for “moral crimes” described situations of kidnappings, forced and child marriage, beatings, stabbings, rapes, forced prostitution, and threats of “honor killing.” Women and girls accused of these crimes are often subjected to “virginity tests,” where they are forced to undergo a vaginal examination by either a relative or a stranger.

This sharp increase in female imprisonments comes four years after the Afghan government passed a law intended to ensure protection against violence on women and girls. The Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law created new criminal penalties for the abuse and blatant discrimination of women and was passed in 2009.

Even as several Afghan officials have stated publicly that running away is not a punishable offense under the Afghan legal code, efforts have been made to prosecute running away as attempted zina, or adultery. Essentially, the assumption is that if a woman escaped the watchful eyes of her male relatives, she will attempt to have extramarital sex.

These injustices stem from the gender-based inequality that has remained characteristic of the Afghan legal system. Violence against women has persisted as a major problem in the country, and the occupation by the United States has not made too drastic of a difference.

When the United States began their intervention in Afghanistan a little over a decade ago, it was with moral authority. “Western” values have long been heralded as more conducive to a society wherein freedom, equality, and justice are main objectives for all. It would only make sense then, after a decade-long occupation of Afghanistan, that a growing wave of western values would become apparent.

However, as seen by this alarming increase in accusations of “moral crimes,” this has not been the case. Human Rights Watch is urging Afghan officials to put more pressure on the enforcement of the EVAW law, including the removal of “running away” as a punishable offense. They are also calling on international donors to heavily consider the EVAW law when engaging with the Karzai administration.

While the enforcement of EVAW is crucial to the Afghan people, it is up to the Afghan government itself to take the necessary steps. However, a U.S. bill introduced in the Senate in 2012 carries the purpose of protecting Afghan women from this side of the globe. The Afghan Women and Girls Security Promotion Act of 2012 is a strategy that would require the Department of Defense to take a number of necessary precautions concerning the safety of women as the U.S. slowly removes their troops from Afghanistan. A few of these steps include an increase in female participation in the Afghan National Army and Police, an increase in female enrollment in schools, and an increase in female participation in local government.

Though the bill is currently dead, it remains a ray of hope for the advancement of women’s rights in Afghanistan. As the increase in imprisonment of women and girls for “moral crimes” continues, it becomes more apparent that the rights of women are not being upheld. Laws such as Afghanistan’s Elimination of Violence Against Women law and the United States’ Afghan Women and Girls Security Promotion Act are most definitely steps in the right direction, if enforced correctly.

– Kathryn Cassibry

Source: Human Rights Watch
Photo: Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty


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