Hundreds of Afghan women imprisoned for 'moral crimes,' says new report
But the response of local journalists at Human Rights Watch press conference shows how tough it may be to persuade Afghans to end criminalization of 'crimes' that include fleeing abuse.
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Still, women's status has a long way to go in Afghanistan. As the HRW report points out, among other problems, fewer than half of girls are enrolled in school, and every two hours an Afghan girl dies of pregnancy-related causes.Skip to next paragraph
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There are also high-profile abuse cases, like a woman named Gulnaz who was imprisoned after police found out she was raped and impregnated. She received a pardon from President Hamid Karzai only after her case received international attention. After her release, she told the media that she would likely marry her rapist to avoid the shame associated with having an illegitimate child.
What happens when Western troops leave?
“The situation of women in Afghanistan today is precarious. There has been progress around women’s education, women’s access to medical care, women’s ability to travel and to work. That’s all good, but the question is [how] we preserve that and can we improve upon it?” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, speaking to reporters on Wednesday.
Despite recent and frequent disagreements with the US and NATO, Mr. Karzai has enjoyed strong international backing. Yet earlier this month, he came out in support of a statement by a government-sponsored council of religious scholars that said women were not equal to men and should not mix with men in public. Explaining his support of the statement, Karzai said the council was not putting limitations on women, but rather was enforcing the Islamic law that binds all Afghans and Muslims.
The remarks sparked concern about what level of support women here will receive from their government when international forces leave.
When it comes to Afghanistan’s interpretation of Islamic law regarding women who run away from home to escape abuse, Human Rights Watch says Afghanistan is the only Muslim nation to interpret such behavior as prohibited under Islamic law.
Sima Samar, chairperson for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, says that those like the reporters who questioned Human Rights Watch’s findings seem to conflate women who run away to escape abuse with those who run away for other reasons such as adultery.
“I think the resistance was due to the mentality of the specific person who asked and which television channel he belonged to. That is their personal mentality rather than the common beliefs and thoughts of the people,” says Dr. Samar. Asked if the new report will help effect change, she says, “It might help, but I don’t think it will help overnight. We have a lot of people within the judiciary system who think the same way as these journalists.”
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