News / Asia

UN: Afghan Women Better Off, but Abuse Lingers

Women walk in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012. The UN says the number of reported violent attacks against Afghan women has more than doubled in a year.
Women walk in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012. The UN says the number of reported violent attacks against Afghan women has more than doubled in a year.
Ayaz Gul
Conflict-torn Afghanistan has made progress in protecting women against violence but many still suffer abuse, according to a new United Nations report.

The U.N. calls on Afghan authorities to take "much greater steps" to address the problem effectively. The report comes a day after a provincial women's affairs official was gunned down on her way to work.

In the report, released Tuesday in Kabul, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reveals the number of reported violent attacks against women in Afghanistan has more than doubled in a year.

According to the U.N. mission's human rights director, Georgette Gagnon, Afghan prosecutors and courts are now registering more cases of violence against women and convicting more perpetrators of such crimes.

"This increase in reporting is an encouraging sign that efforts of civil society, the government, international actors and the media have increased public awareness and sensitization to violence against women and its harmful and criminal consequences," Gagnon says.

But she adds incidents of violence against women in Afghanistan still remain largely underreported due to cultural constraints, social norms and customary practices. She also notes that "prevailing insecurity and a weak rule of law" have hampered women's access to formal justice institutions.

"Those incidents that reach law enforcement that actually get to the court or receive public attention due to their egregious nature represent only the tip of the iceberg of incidents of violence against women through out the country," Gagnon says.

The U.N. diplomat is demanding that the Afghan government enforce a law designed to prevent violence against women. She insisted that progress in addressing the issue will be limited until the Law on Elimination of Violence against Women, or EVAW, is applied more widely.

"Although prosecutors and courts were increasingly applying the law in a growing number of reported incidents of violence against women, the overall use of the law remained low," Gagnon says, "indicating there is still a long way to go for women and girls in Afghanistan to be protected from violence through this law."

Enacted in August 2009, the Afghan legislation criminalizes and specifies punishments for acts such as child marriage, forced marriage, selling and buying women under the pretext of marriage, giving away a woman or girl to settle a dispute, forced self-immolation, rape and beating.

Lack of knowledge among ordinary people about the law and their rights in general, as well as insecurity in parts of the country, are hampering implementation of the law.

"Because a lot of people, they don’t know about the law. And women especially don’t know about the law and how to use this law for [the] benefit of the women," says Gulalai Noor Safi, an Afghan lawmaker. "And the other thing is, in the insecure places there is [the] local and traditional judicial system. It is very difficult to implement it. For the implementation of each law, we need peace, security and, of course, rule of law."

While the Afghan lawmaker feels her country still has a long way to go in addressing issues like violence against women, she says the picture is not as bleak as it was 11 years ago, when the Taliban were in power. She says Afghan girls now have the right to education, while women sit in the national parliament and are allowed to work outside their homes without any restrictions.

Before the U.S.-led coalition invaded Afghanistan and removed the Taliban from power in late 2001, the Islamists barred women from working and girls from seeking education.

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