Thursday, November 27, 2008

Impact of Feminist Movements in Afghanistan

Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

Official name is “Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” is a landlocked country located in the heart of Asia and is variously designated within South Asia as well as the Middle East. Religiously, Afghans are over 99% Muslims: approximately 74-89% Sunni and 9-25% Shi'a. Afghans display pride in their religion, country, ancestry, and above all, their independence.

Afghanistan is currently led by President Hamid Karzai, who was elected in October 2004. The current parliament was elected in 2005. Among the elected officials were former mujahadeen, Taliban members, communists, reformists, and Islamic fundamentalists. 28% of the delegates elected were women, 3% more than the 25% minimum guaranteed under the constitution. This made Afghanistan, long known under the Taliban for its oppression of women, one of the leading countries in terms of female representation.


The lives of hundreds of thousands of Afghan women and children have been shattered in the human rights catastrophe that has devastated Afghanistan in the past three years. Thousands have been killed in artillery attacks apparently aimed deliberately at residential areas by the various political factions who have been fighting for territory since April 1992 when the Mujahideen groups took power. Thousands of others have been wounded.

Armed groups have massacred defenseless women in their homes, or have brutally beaten and raped them. Scores of young women have been abducted and then raped, taken as wives by commanders or sold into prostitution. Some have committed suicide to avoid such a fate. Scores of women have reportedly "disappeared" and several have been stoned to death. Hundreds of thousands of women and children have been displaced or are living as refugees abroad. Many are traumatized by the horrific abuses they have suffered or witnessed.

These gross human rights violations of so many unarmed civilian women have been committed with total impunity. The Constitution has been suspended. Laws have become meaningless. The judicial structures have been destroyed. The central authorities have become virtually defunct. As a result, there has been little prospect of any of the perpetrators being brought to justice.

The perpetrators are members of the main Mujahideen groups and warlords, or indeed anyone who establishes control over a pocket of territory. As territory changes hands after long battles, an entire local population can be subjected to violent retaliatory punishments by the victorious forces. The conquerors often celebrate by killing and raping women and looting property.

Alongside these appalling abuses, women have been prevented from exercising several of their fundamental rights -- including the rights to association, freedom of expression and employment -- by Mujahideen groups who consider such activities to be un-Islamic for women. For instance, Mujahideen guards are reported to have stopped women from working outside their homes, or from attending health and family planning courses organized by non-governmental organizations. Educated women, particularly those working in the fields of education and welfare, have been repeatedly threatened by Mujahideen groups.

The Supreme Court of the Islamic State of Afghanistan was reported in 1994 to have issued an "Ordinance on Women's Veil" which ordains that women must wear a veil that covers the whole body. It also forbids women from leaving their homes or being looked at "not because they are women, but for fear of sedition".

Political Background

After years of civil war, the Soviet-backed government of President Najibullah was overthrown in April 1992 by a combination of Mujahideen forces and some army generals allied to them. The Mujahideen groups then began fighting each other to win control of Kabul and other major cities. However, none of the political groups could establish an effective central authority and lawlessness spread across the country.

Although there has been no effective central authority since April 1992, leaders of the main warring factions retained high posts in a divided and largely ineffective government. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar of Hezb-e Islami remained Prime Minister until late 1994 and Borhannudin Rabbani of Jamiat-e Islami continues to be the President of the Islamic State of Afghanistan. Throughout most of 1994 an alliance of Mujahideen groups led by Jamiat-e Islami retained control over most of Kabul, and an opposition alliance led by Hezb-e Islami controlled other parts of the capital.

As of February 1995, a strong and popular political force known as the Taleban (religious students) had taken control of nine of Afghanistan's 30 provinces, by far the largest number of provinces controlled by a single party. The Taleban appear to be orthodox Muslims intent on establishing a strict Islamic system of government. Some observers believe that the Taleban may have been aided by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Their most significant advance was the capture in February 1995 of Hezb-e Islami's headquarters in Charasyab, south of Kabul.

Afghanistan continues to be in the grip of a devastating civil war which has cost an estimated 25,000 people their lives since April 1992. Control of Kabul remains divided between various armed political groups and there appears to be no end in sight to the violence.

Civilian victims of armed conflict

Thousands of unarmed civilian women have been killed by unexpected and deliberate artillery attacks on their homes. The vast majority have been killed in Kabul. They have been blown up or hit by rockets or bullets while walking in the street, waiting at bus stops, working in their houses or sheltering in large buildings. Many have died or been injured in attacks aimed at mosques, schools and hospitals. Similar attacks have been carried out on residential areas in other parts of the country.

Most Afghan women have taken no active part in the fighting, yet their homes and neighborhoods have been continually bombarded. A woman who left Kabul in October 1994 said she had witnessed a bomb explosion which killed over 70 people at a wedding ceremony in Qala Fathullah district of Kabul when the area was hit by several bombs a few months earlier. She saw the brother and sister of the groom digging bodies out of the ground. There had been no fighting in that street for several days and no military bases had been set up there.

Mujahideen groups justify such attacks by saying that the targeted area was controlled by a rival faction. However, many attacks on residential areas appear to have been deliberately aimed at killing defenseless civilians.

In almost all cases, no warning is given to the unarmed residents whose homes are about to be hit. Some Mujahideen groups have reportedly celebrated military victories in residential areas showing no concern about the destruction of homes or the killing and wounding of unarmed civilians. A woman teacher from Pul-e Charkhi area in Kabul, who returned from Pakistan to Kabul after the Mujahideen took power in April 1992, told Amnesty International that armed guards celebrating a victory had fired rockets at residential areas.

"We came back to Kabul thinking that things had got better. But the situation was actually worse than it had been under the Communists. For example, one night Hekmatyar was visiting his forces in Pul-e Charkhi area. His guards were showing a lot of enthusiasm and were firing in the air non-stop. Suddenly, two of the rockets they fired hit each other in mid-air and landed on my neighbor’s house, ruining the house and injuring my neighbor. We then decided to leave. There was no safety."

Killings by armed political groups

Women related to men sought by Mujahideen groups, or who have themselves resisted abduction or rape, have been deliberately and arbitrarily killed, sometimes in front of their families, or have been threatened with death by the warring factions.

A family who left Afghanistan in mid-1994 told Amnesty International how one night in March that year, members of General Dostum's forces had entered their house in Old Mycrorayan area of Kabul and killed their daughter.

"There were about 12 of them all carrying Kalashnikovs rifles with their faces covered. They asked us to give them our daughter. We refused to give her to them. They did not accept that, and asked us to bring our daughter to talk to them. We asked her and she came and told them she did not want to go with them. One of them then lifted his Kalashnikov and shot my daughter dead in front of our eyes. She was only 20 and was just about to finish her high school. We buried her body. There were eight surviving members of our family."

An elderly couple described how their 19-year-old daughter had been killed in front of them in March 1994 because she refused to go with armed guards. The guards then looted the house and forced the family to leave.

Rape and other torture

Rape of women by armed guards belonging to the various warring factions appears to be condoned by leaders as a method of intimidating vanquished populations and of rewarding soldiers. Some armed guards target women from ethnic minorities they regard as enemies.

Suicide to prevent rape

Several Afghan women have reportedly committed suicide to avoid being raped. In at least one case, a father who saw the Mujahideen guards coming for his daughter reportedly killed her before she could be taken away.

A number of families told Amnesty International the story of Nahid, who threw herself to her death to avoid being raped.

"Nahid was a 16-year-old high school student living with her family in Mycrorayan. In mid-1992 her house was raided by armed Mujahideen guards who had come to take her. The father and family resisted. Nahid ran to the fifth floor of the apartment block and threw herself off the balcony. She died instantly. Her father put her body on a bed frame and wanted to carry it in the streets to show the people what had happened to her, but the Mujahideen groups stopped him."

In mid-1993 Nafisa, a 25-year-old woman, reportedly tried to kill her when armed guards came for her. A neighboring family who subsequently took refuge in Pakistan recalled how in June that year armed men from Shura-e Nezar had come to the woman's house.

"Nafisa ran to the third floor of the building and jumped off the balcony. The neighbours came to the streets and the guards left the area. This happened in the Khairkhana district of Kabul. She had broken her legs and her back. She was in hospital for a very long time. We do not know where she is now."

Persecution of women's organizations

Only two Afghan women organizations are known to have been formed that are not affiliated to a political party. Leading members of both groups have persistently faced harassment and death threats from Mujahideen groups, particularly the Hezb-e Islami.

Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)

The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) is a women's organization in Afghanistan that promotes women's rights and secular democracy. It was founded in Kabul in 1977 by Meena Keshwar Kamal (Mostly known as Meena), a student activist who was assassinated in 1987 for her political activities. The group opposed both the Soviet-supported regime and the later Mujahideen and Taliban Islamist rulers. Since RAWA opposes all forms of religious fundamentalism, it is regarded as a controversial group in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

A group opposed to both fundamentalist regimes and U.S. military intervention. RAWA had their own message on International Women's Day 2004:

"The freedom of a nation is to be achieved by itself - similarly the real emancipation of women can be realized only by themselves. If that freedom is bestowed by others, it may be seized and violated any time."

The Afghan Women's Council

The Afghan Women's Council (AWC) was formed in mid-1993. Composed solely of Afghan women, including doctors, teachers and university lecturers, the AWC is headed by Fatana Gilani. Its aim is to provide educational and health facilities to Afghan children and women in the refugee areas, and to train Afghan women in the area of women's rights within the framework of Afghanistan's religious and cultural traditions. It maintains a well-organized school and a mother-and-child health clinic in Peshawar, Pakistan, as well as a hospital and a clinic in Kabul. Its leaders have also been threatened by some Mujahideen groups.

Traumatized by the brutality

Mothers have been forced to watch their young daughters being raped. Girls have witnessed their parents being beaten and killed. Thousands of women have had to watch helplessly as their homes were destroyed and their loves loved? Ones brutalized. Hundreds of thousands of women have made painful treks with their children across hazardous mountainous passes in freezing conditions, only to be abused on arrival at border- posts and refugee camps. Not surprisingly, many of these women are traumatized and are in desperate need of professional help.

Women's rights violated with impunity

Afghanistan's Constitution -- which guaranteed fundamental rights to women -- was suspended in April 1992 when the Mujahideen groups took power in Kabul. The legal system existing before 1992 has been ignored by warlords and the judicial structure has been largely dismantled. Those who perpetrate human rights violations and abuses do so with virtual impunity.

In several provinces, warlords have assumed the functions of judges; in some other provinces Islamic clergy or local shuras (councils of elders) assume judicial functions. In some of these provinces, trials which fall far short of internationally accepted standards of fairness have reportedly resulted in sentences involving punishments such as stoning to death and public lashings, which Amnesty International considers are cruel, inhuman or degrading and therefore opposes them.

Conclusions and recommendations

Women are the main victims of the continuing human rights crisis in Afghanistan. They are being killed and maimed in what appears to be deliberate artillery attacks on civilians. They are being targeted for assassination, abduction and rape. These abuses are being committed with total impunity by government forces and armed political groups who are prepared to terrorize the civilian population in order to secure and reinforce their power bases.

While frequently claiming that they wish to "restore" religious, ethnic and humane standards, those engaged in the fighting have persistently indulged in widespread human rights abuses and looting of property. Even non-violent groups such as women's organizations have been systematically targeted for attacks.

Amnesty International urges the transitional authorities in Kabul to:

* Publicly commit them to safeguarding women's human rights.

* ensure that government forces and armed groups allied to them are prevented from committing human rights violations such as unlawful killings and torture.

* take special steps to prevent rape during armed conflict, as well as sexual abuse of women and girls.

* thoroughly and impartially investigate all reports of deliberate and arbitrary killings, rape and other torture, and bring those responsible to justice, and provide fair and adequate redress to relatives of victims, including financial compensation and appropriate medical care.

* ensure that government forces do not collude in human rights abuses by armed political groups, and do not lend such groups support in ways that facilitate human rights abuses.

* make it clear that the killing, abduction or torture of women in order to punish or bring pressure on their relatives will not be tolerated, and hold those responsible for such abuses to account.

* abolish all forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment, including the death penalty, stoning and flogging.

* abolish all legislation that treats women and men unequally and condones human rights violations against women.

* guarantee that women activists and non-governmental organizations working peacefully for the promotion and protection of women's human rights enjoy all rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

* recognize that discrimination in law and practice against women and girl children is a key contributory factor to human rights abuses such as torture, including rape and other forms of sexual violence, and initiate a plan of action against such discrimination.

Amnesty International urges the leaders of all warring Afghan armed political groups to:

* take immediate steps to safeguard women's human rights.

* observe minimum humane standards, as set out in the Geneva Conventions, in particular to treat civilians humanely, and to prevent deliberate and arbitrary killings, torture (including rape), ill- treatment and hostage taking.

* prevent those under their command their from committing arbitrary and deliberate killings, rape and other forms of torture, political detentions and sexual abuse.

* maintain strict chain-of-command controls over their forces and hold accountable any members of their forces who commit or condone human rights abuses.

Amnesty International urges the international community to:

* issue a clear warning to the warring factions in Afghanistan that the world's governments will not ignore abuses of human rights against women and other civilians.

* ensure that no military equipment and training is supplied to any of the forces in Afghanistan without guarantees that it will not be used to commit or facilitate human rights abuses.

* ensure that standards set out in international humanitarian and human rights law designed to protect women's rights are upheld in Afghanistan. At present, women who are working to promote development, equality and peace in Afghanistan risk imprisonment, torture and other human rights violations and abuses.

* publicly state their commitment to ensuring that the intergovernmental bodies which monitor human rights violations against women, including the UN Commission on Human Rights and its Special Rapporteur on violence against women ,the UN Commission of the Status of Women and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, have adequate resources to carry out their tasks effectively.

* Support education and training programs in Afghanistan designed to promote awareness of women's rights as human rights.

Amnesty International also urges:

* The UN Secretary General to ensure that the recommendations made by international human rights bodies, including the Special Rapporteur for Afghanistan, are implemented.

* members of other intergovernmental organizations, such as the Organization of Islamic Conference and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to condemn the human rights situation in Afghanistan and to become actively involved in trying to end the abuses.

* All governments, particularly those in Pakistan and Iran, to respect fully the rights of Afghan refugees and offer them adequate protection, both at border-posts and in refugee camps. Governments should ensure that women's physical safety and integrity are protected by preventing torture, including rape, and all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation, such as extorting sexual favors for commodities.



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Fatima Arif said...

"Be careful if you make a women cry, because Allah counts her tears. Women came out of a man's rib not from his feet to be walked on, not from his head to be superior over, but from his side to be equal, under the arm to be protected & next to the heart to be loved."

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