The Almighty Allah says in Holy Quran: “And of His signs is that He created for you wives from among yourselves that you might reside with them, and has put kindness and mercy between you. Surely, there are signs in this for those who think.”
Violence against women and girls is one of the most systematic and widespread human rights violations. It is rooted in gendered social structures rather than individual and random acts; it cuts across age, socio-economic, educational and geographic boundaries; affects all societies; and is a major obstacle to ending gender inequality and discrimination globally.
In Afghanistan, years of war and insecurity have deepened the culture of violence, and it continues to be a source of deep concern, despite positive legislative and institutional developments.
Women and girls are exposed to violence in public and private spaces, girls are prevented from going to school, and women have little access healthcare such as polio immunizations. There has also been a deepening in women’s isolation, creating barriers for women seeking help, and leading to an increase in substance abuse. Women remain mostly excluded from the peace process. Finally, human rights defenders and organizations providing support services to women survivors have become targets of violence and harassment.
Four main factors underlie women’s vulnerability and the perpetuation of violence against women in Afghanistan: the traditional gender order that values men above women in all areas; the erosion of protective social mechanisms; the weak rule of law; poverty and insecurity.
A staggering 87% of Afghan women experience violence, mostly at the hands of the family members and people who claim to love them the most. This violence includes: linked to early and forced marriages – including baad (the exchange of girls for dispute resolution) and baadal (exchange marriages); so-called honor crimes; rapes and killings of women; sexual harassment in the workplace and in public spaces; and self-immolation and self-harm linked to experiences of violence. Social taboos and sanctions for certain crimes of morality – such as suspected romantic or sexual relationships outside marriage (‘zina’) – have not only led to an overall culture of silence around violence against women, but also increased impunity for perpetrator. They have also led to secondary violence, such as virginity tests to rebut accusations of zina. Traditional justice systems often perpetuate the current social order and work against women’s rights, undermining formal legal reform. Instead of finding support from police, judicial institutions, and government officials, women who try to flee abusive situations often face indifference or criminal sanctions for committing moral crimes.
There is a lack of credible and representative data on the prevalence, attitudes to, and shape of violence against women in Afghanistan, the collection of which is hindered by the embedded traditionalism and widespread discriminatory practices in many parts of the country. Change is occurring at multiple levels, but it is slow and uneven, reflecting the complex relationship between culture, socio-religious factors and politics playing out across the country.