During December 2011 the world's attention was drawn to two high profile cases of violence against Afghan women. The first was the case of Gulnaz, a woman jailed for adultery after being raped by her cousin's husband. After national and international outcry Gulnaz received a pardon from Afghan president Hamid Karzai, but reports suggest this only occurred after she agreed to marry her attacker. The second case was the heartbreaking story of Sahur Gul, a 15 year girl who endured months of torture at the hands of her husband and his family. After escaping her basement prison and being brought to local authorities, she was then returned to the hands of her torturers before eventually being rescued by Afghan police after a relative reported their concerns.
More recently, an article published by The Women's UN Report Network highlighted the case of a young girl named Yasmin, who was married at the age of 12 to a 60 year old man. After 4 years of unhappy marriage she fled with a man from her village who she had fallen in love with. The pair were later caught by the police and imprisoned, with Yasmin giving birth to their child whilst in prison. Yasmin has since been released and is living at a shelter in Kabul, but lives in fear of violent reprisals from her family and first husband.
As shocking as these cases are, the sad fact is that they are not isolated events, and cases of rape, domestic abuse, forced marriage and unjust imprisonment of women are still commonplace in Afghanistan. In fact, a Thompson-Reuters poll published in June 2011 named Afghanistan as the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman. The Afghan legal system fails to protect or provide justice for women like Gulnaz, Sahur and Yasmin. Frequently women are imprisoned for the crime of "zina" (sex outside marriage), after being raped or fleeing violent or forced marriages. This is despite the introduction of the 'Elimination of Violence Against Women' (EVAW) law in 2009, a landmark that many human rights and women's groups hoped would improve the situation for women in Afghanistan. A UN analysis of the EVAW law notes that it has yet to be widely implemented, and Human Rights Watch researcher Heather Barr has reported that most zina trials lack thorough investigation or proof, and the women accused are often poorly represented.
The failure to implement the EVAW law is indicative of the widespread attitude towards women's rights in Afghanistan, a country that is still enshrined in patriarchy. There is much work to be done to achieve gender equality, both culturally and legally, in Afghanistan, and to ensure the women there are free to live their lives as they choose without fear of reprisal. The work Women for Women International does in Afghanistan provides a real chance for women to begin their journey to achieving this. Our Join me on the Bridge 2012 campaign offers you the chance to lend your voice to the cry for peace and equality in Afghanistan, and other war torn countries across the world. Have a look at the website to find out how to join an event near you, or organise your own event to raise awareness amongst your local community. It is also a great opportunity to fundraise and contribute towards the programmes Women for Women International runs to educate and empower women who have suffered the atrocities of war. Join us, on March 8th 2012, and help spread a message of peace and equality around the world.