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Violence Against Afghan Women Common & Unpunished, UN Report Says

Jul 21, 2009

A new United Nations (UN) report on women in Afghanistan describes extensive and fast-growing levels of violence directed at women who take part in public life, as well as the “widespread occurrence” of rape that is committed with impunity. Silence is Violence: End the Abuse of Women in Afghanistan concludes that, “Violence, in the public and private spheres, is an everyday occurrence in the lives of a huge proportion of Afghan women.”

The report focuses on two issues: the “growing trend” of violence and threats against women in public life; and rape/sexual violence. It details numerous attacks on girls’ schools and on female students – including gas and acid attacks – often committed by “anti-government elements.”

“A number of female Members of Parliament have already indicated that due to the prevailing security situation and death threats they repeatedly receive, they will not be contesting the next National Assembly elections in 2010,” the report says.

“Developments such as these threaten to have a devastating long-term impact on the involvement of women in Afghan society,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. “There have been some encouraging incremental advances in the area of girls’ education in recent years, and it is extremely important to have women participating in the country’s political arena, but the Taliban and other conservative forces seem determined to take the country back to the stone age.”

The segment of the report dealing with sexual violence paints an extremely bleak picture of a society in which rape is both widespread and taboo, and victims are more likely than perpetrators to be punished. Researchers note that preliminary data suggests that “rape is a widespread occurrence in all parts of Afghanistan and in all communities and all social groups.” It notes that there is no explicit provision in the 1976 Afghan Penal Code criminalizing rape, and recommends that this be rectified.

Echoing the report’s conclusions, High Commissioner Pillay said, “The Government has a duty to eradicate these harmful practices by making them illegal, educating its population and demonstrating leadership and commitment to safeguard the rights of all Afghan women and girls. The silence surrounding the widely known problem of violence against the girls and women of Afghanistan must be broken.”

The report was issued jointly by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on July 8. It is available online here.

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