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Jul. 8 2009 - 8:38 am | 137 views | 4 recommendations | 3 comments

Afghanistan’s Rape Problem

A little girl in Jal Rez, Wardak peeks out at my camera from behind a brick wall (photo by P.J.)

A little girl in Jal Rez, Wardak peeks out at my camera from behind a brick wall (photo by P.J.)

I have seen some awful things in my life, but the worst of them doesn’t come close to seeing the way that women are treated in this country. Dogs are treated with more respect in Afghanistan than most of the women I’ve seen.

Kabul is a bit of an exception. I know many professional, educated Afghan women here, who move about freely. But woe to those women and girls in the rural provinces of this country.

Today I got a sneak peek at a UN report about violence against women—and it looks like Reuters did too—that has yet to be published.

The findings are sickening, and go way beyond Burkas.

There isn’t a law against rape in this country, only one for having sex outside of marriage, a crime known as zina. This means that many rape victims are actually punished for being raped. Zina is punishable by death for both parties, but it is more common that the victim be forced to marry her rapist. Also, the victim’s family may demand that the perpetrator’s family hand over one or more girls as compensation, further widening the circle of victimization.

According to the report, rape is very common and widespread. Cases of fathers raping daughters or powerful men raping young girls happen every day in this country.

The report says that these atrocities stem from cultural norms and misinterpretations of Islam.

This is only a small part of the horrors mentioned in this report, which touches on how women are shut out of public life and threatened with death or killed if they step out of line. If I have time tonight I’ll type up the relevant portions and post them, but the full report should be online in a few days.

Sadly, I fear that the US-led coalition does and can do little to alleviate the repression of women in Afghanistan. Sure, there are lots of seminars on woman’s issues, roundtable discussion and  NGO’s that do tremendous work to try and remedy or bring these problems to light.

But in all the men-only shuras and meetings I’ve attended , no one has ever brought up these fundamental violations of human rights. As foreigners, most Americans (particularly the military,) don’t want to be seen as imposing our cultural value system on Afghans. If we do so, we will lose popular opinion and thus the war.

As occupiers, the coalition is in a bind.

They watch as women are raped, beaten and treated to innumerable horrors, yet frequently do or say nothing because doing so would irreparably harm the military and nation-building mission here. They give money to start things like the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, yet that ministry has zero power and nobody here takes it seriously.

So perhaps I have mislabeled this post. Rape isn’t Afghanistan’s problem. It is our own.


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    “The report says that these atrocities stem from cultural norms and misinterpretations of Islam.”

    Misinterpretation or not, this is what happens when religion is allowed to infect the law. You can’t reason with someone who thinks his actions are approved of by God. And, all too often, these things are ignored because religious beliefs – no matter how insane – must be respected. It’s nonsense.

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    About Me

    I’m a writer and reporter living in Kabul, Afghanistan. For the past four years I’ve been an investigative reporter at various Village Voice Media weeklies, and before that I worked on documentary films in New York City.

    I am currently a journalism mentor and news editor for The Killid Group, a not-for-profit radio and print organization based in Kabul, with five radio stations and many bureaus throughout Afghanistan.

    My writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Christian Science Monitor, Village Voice, Modern Drunkard and other fine publications.

    Originally from Philadelphia, I’ve also worked in south Florida and Nashville, Tennessee.

    See my profile »
    Followers: 165
    Contributor Since: June 2009
    Location:Kabul, Afghanistan