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The Killid Group
Their Homes are Not Safe for WomenWritten by Sohaila Wida Khamosh
Saturday, 27 August 2011 12:38
Cases of wife battery have touched unprecedented levels. Guns are the new weapons of assault.
Afghanistan has a dismal record of psychological, sexual and/or physical abuse of women. Figures with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) for the first five months of this year show there were 1,026 cases of physical violence including murder. This indicates a rise in the level of violence. The commission's figure for the total number of cases of wife battering, including threats and killings, in 2010 was 2,765.
The Ministry of Women's Affairs is also ringing alarm bells. Their figures for the first quarter alone show 11 women were murdered by family members. Meanwhile, the Department of Criminal Investigations in Kabul, a wing of the police, has launched a probe into 26 murder cases where the victims were women. The police have filed cases in court.
Col Mohammad Zahir, head of counter crime investigation in Kabul, says the killing of women by relatives falls in the category of "ordinary crimes". "These are not premeditated," he believes.
A random look at cases of wife battering reported from western Afghanistan makes chilling reading.
- A 30-year-old woman was beheaded by her husband in Rubat Sangi district in Herat.
- A 35-year-old woman was knifed to death by her husband in Kashk-e-Kuhna district in Herat.
- A husband chopped off his wife's hands in Nimroz province.
Officials in Herat's Department of Women's Affairs (DOWA) have registered 140 cases of violent assault on women in the last four months. These include beatings, forced marriages, divorce and women's self-immolation.
The attacks by a husband or male relative on a wife or female relative are made with the intention of controlling her by inducing fear and pain.
A woman who agreed to talk to Killid but did not want her name revealed says they are seeing new methods of wife battery. Women were beaten with electric cables and attacked with scorpions in the province.
Nadia Samar, the law officer in Balkh, reports a new trend of women being threatened by gun-wielding male relatives. She believes that some of the arms distributed to Afghan army and policy are being trained on their women.
Is the violence touching unprecedented levels because of lack of awareness raising by government and adovacy groups? Gulsam Sediqi, a woman activist in Herat, thinks violence levels are linked to the social and economic position of the woman. "That is why levels of violence are different," she argues. It is worse in remoter areas.
Nadira Giya, director of the Kunduz DOWA told Killid in an interview, that close relatives were involved in three of the five cases of women murdered this year. Samar from Balkh says levels of violence have risen in her province. In 2010, there were 300 cases of violence against women. In the first quarter of the current year, 108 cases were registered by DOWA, she says.
Fawzia Nawabi, in charge of women's affairs in the rights commission, AIHRC, says the situation is definitely worse for women in Afghanistan's north zone. The commission has observed instances of women being attacked with stones, bricks and cables. Sometimes their fingers and elbows have been deliberately broken.
While Col Zahir, the head of Counter Crime Investigation in Kabul, believes the violence against women is not organised crime, women's activists say it is systematic and deep-rooted. Homa Sultani, coordinator of the Women's Rights Unit in AIHRC, says they are concerned about the "systematic violence against women".
Investigations by AIHRC into the incidents reported from January to May this year reveal a 48 percent increase in violence. Wife battering could be increasing, says Wajma Abdul Rahimzai, executive manager of Afghan Women and Children Research Centre, because of the worsening economic situation, insecurity, low levels of literacy, and the prevailing culture of impunity from punishment. Guns are the new weapons of assault on women. "Regretfully, the easy availability of heavy and light weapons - because of armed groups, insurgency and smuggling - has a link to the rise in domestic violence," says Rahimzai.
Indeed the country is bristling with guns.
With every businessman legally allowed to own two firearms - apart from the cheap guns that are smuggled into the country through porous borders - the Home Ministry has issued some 40,000 commercial gun licences. Observers say this is well beyond the number of businessmen in the country.
MOWA's director of law, Amini, has no doubts that the gun culture is responsible for the rising cases of women being shot by relatives.
"Easy access to weapons is among the factors for the increase in violence against women," she says.
Moreover, in the few instances when women have dared to seek justice the backlash has been severe. "Men cannot take being taken to court by their wives," she adds. She believes the only protection for women would be stricter enforcement of laws and regulations.
Dil Aqa Mahboobi, a technical assistant in the Forensic Department in Kabul, says they have received "many more cases of female murders, accidental deaths including self-immolation, death by strangling, hacking or poisoning."
"Unfortunately this year we have observed a rise in female murders. There were six cases in one week in Kabul. Someone in the family beheaded a mother and her two daughters in Kart-e-Parwan. In another case a woman was killed, and her body set on fire to make it seem the burns were self-inflicted."
Rahimzai of the Afghan Women and Children's Research Centre concludes, "We are in crisis."