Afghan Women’s Rights Situation Deteriorates

Afghan women face widespread discrimination with little help from a government that is failing to protect them against a rising tide of violence, Human Rights Watch warns in a new report.

“The situation for Afghan women and girls is dire and could deteriorate. While the world focuses on the Obama administration’s new security strategy, it’s critical to make sure that women and girls’ rights don’t just get lip service while being pushed to the bottom of the list by the government and donors,” Rachel Reid, a HRW Afghanistan researcher said in a press release.

The report, “We Have the Promises of the World,” focuses on five areas HRW says are emblematic of the problems Afghan women and girls face: attacks on women in public life, violence against women, forced marriages, access to justice and access to secondary education.

In the immediate aftermath of the Taliban’s fall in late-2001, Afghan women burst onto the public scene, taking up political posts, starting women’s magazines and sending their girls back to school. But the changes were mainly limited to Afghanistan’s urban centers, particularly Kabul, where there were large contingents of foreign armed forces. And while most Afghan women dressed and behaved conservatively, fundamentalist views on women’s roles remained.

Now those early gains in education, freedom of movement and work have eroded amid a resurgent Taliban insurgency and the ascension of fundamentalist factions in government, according to HRW. While national surveys show 52 percent of women have experienced physical violence, most women are too afraid to report attacks to authorities. Around half of Afghan girls are married before age 16, HRW reports, and over 70 percent of unions are the result of forced marriages. Authorities have failed to investigate or prosecute perpetrators of a string of high-profile murders of female politicians, rights activists and journalists.

As opportunities to speak out diminish, Afghan women and their advocates have turned to more creative ways to ensure Afghan women’s voices are heard. The Afghan Women’s Writing Project, which helps Afghan women write and post blog entries, is one such endeavor. Similar to the secretive nature of the clandestine home schools that brave female teachers ran during the Taliban years, the AWWP does not disclose the full name or specific locations of its contributors.

“I grew up being told by the society that I was mentally unequal to men and incapable of doing anything but giving birth and raising children. Writing for the blog has enabled me to take the tears, the pain and the horror of Afghan women to my Afghan brothers and to the world,” a contributor named Meena recently told Al Jazeera.