U.N. Highlights Disastrous State of Afghan Women’s Rights

The United Nations has issued a blunt assessment of the dismal state of women’s rights in Afghanistan, criticizing families, local communities and government officials for complicity in failing to address a social system that continues to set women up as victims.

“Afghan women have limited freedom to escape the norms and traditions that dictate a subservient status for females. Women in Afghanistan are also subjected to the violence inherent in armed conflict that has intensified in recent years and is exacting an increasingly heavy toll on Afghan civilians,” the report says.

Intimidation, direct psychological and physical attacks, and high profile murders of prominent women are leading Afghan women to censor themselves in the public sphere, and dissuade many from venturing outside their homes, effectively reversing any initial gains made after the Taliban was routed from power, charges the report, “Silence is Violence.”

Sexual violence is a massive societal problem, the report continues, and existing law deals ineffectively with the issue. Women are left to battle traditional community justice systems that often place a criminal burden of guilt on already traumatized survivors. Honor killings, human trafficking and domestic abuse are among the other assaults women face with little legal protection.

The document, co-sponsored by the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights and the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, urges Afghan officials to explicitly condemn violence against women and act immediately to criminalize rape under Afghan law. These concrete measures, the authors argue, would be first steps to ending the culture of impunity that surrounds sexual violence in a country where discussions of such subjects remain largely taboo.