In Afghanistan, horrific violence against women is nothing new

Afghanistan has seen several horrific cases of violence against women in recent weeks, but the problems are far from new, as a recent Human Rights Watch report indicates

Afghanistan has seen several horrific cases of violence against women in recent weeks. Most recently, Afghan authorities reported Monday that a man, angry that his wife had not yet borne him a son, strangled her soon after she gave birth to their third child, a girl.

Weeks earlier, Sahar Gul, a 15-year-old child bride, was rescued from months of beatings and imprisonment at the hands of her in-laws, authorities said.

These problems aren't new. Last summer, Afghanistan was ranked as the most dangerous country for women by a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey of gender experts, citing widespread concerns about forced marriage, spousal rape and other abuses.

The survey of 213 experts looked at problems involving sexual violence, trafficking and other threats to women around the world. It ranked these five countries as the worst:

1. Afghanistan

2. Democratic Republic of Congo

3. Pakistan

4. India

5. Somalia

Human Rights Watch also decried violence against Afghan women in its recently released annual report, highlighting domestic abuse as a major problem in Afghanistan:

The incarceration of women and girls for "moral crimes" such as running away from home -- even when doing so is not prohibited by statutory law -- also continues to be a major concern, with an estimated half of the approximately 700 women and girls in jail and prison facing such charges.

A government-proposed regulation in 2011 would have prevented NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] from independently operating shelters for women and jeopardized the existence of Afghanistan's few existing shelters. Afghanistan at present has 14 shelters, each able to house an average of around 20 to 25 women and their children. This does not meet even a small fraction of the need in a country where an estimated 70 to 80 percent of marriages are forced and 87 percent of women face at least one form of physical, sexual, or psychological violence or forced marriage in their lifetimes. Although the regulation was significantly improved following strong domestic and international criticism, it exemplifies the hostility felt by many parts of Afghan society, including within the government, to women’s autonomy and ability to protect themselves from abuse and forced marriage.

Yet Afghan women say there has also been progress. In a December declaration, the nonprofit Afghan Women's Network noted some of its successes over the last decade: 

From a position of virtual oblivion in 2001, over 4 million young girls are attending schools and higher education institutes today. Seventeen percent of civil servants across the country are women, who actively contribute to national reconstruction and economic development. The women who hold over 25% of seats in parliament daily assert the need for accountability and transparency mechanisms in a reformed governance structure and hundreds of women organizations are striving to end violence and discrimination against women and girls in the most remote valleys of the country.

If you want to learn more, "Global Voices" has a documentary by female video journalists trained in Afghanistan. You can watch this trailer or check your local listings to find out when it airs:

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Afghan accused of strangling wife who gave birth to third girl

-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Child bride Sahar Gul, 15, lies in a bed as she recovers at the Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan. In the wake of her case, President Hamid Karzai pledged Jan. 12 to take action against the "cowardly" perpetrators of violence against women. Credit: Shah Marai / AFP/Getty Images

 
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