As President Barack Obama sets his new strategy for the war in Afghanistan into motion, another problem in that country is going largely ignored. The United Nations reported today that rape in Afghanistan is a human rights crisis of "profound proportions" despite the fact that it is both concealed and under-reported.
Norah Niland, who serves as the human rights representative for the UN in Afghanistan announced at a Kabul press conference that "Women and girls are at risk of rape in their homes, in their villages and in detention facilities. It is a human rights problem of profound proportions.” The conference kicked off a 16-day campaign focused on violence against women intended to support “a diverse range of activities across Afghanistan to enhance awareness and, by extension, to mobilize or increase attention” of the rampant problem.
Although women's rights have dramatically improved since the Sunni Islamist Taliban was overthrown from power in 2001, victims of rape are often accused and convicted of adultery even when the rape occurred within the family. In rural areas, civil law yields to cultural or tribal laws.
Niland continued, "Women and girls are at risk of rape in their homes, in their villages, and in detention facilities. Rape is not unique to Afghanistan, but the socio-political context does have particular characteristics that exacerbate the problem. Shame is attached to rape victims rather than to the perpetrator. Victims often find themselves being prosecuted for the offence of zina, otherwise known as adultery. For the vast majority of victims, there is very little possibility of finding justice. There is no explicit provision in the 1976 Afghan Penal Code that criminalizes rape."
The UN, therefore, is recommending an explicit inclusion of rape codified into legislation intended to protect women from violence so that the government has something to enforce.
Seeing and respecting women as equals in society is another obstacle in the reduction of violence in a country where still only 12.6 percent of women over 15 can read and write, and 57 percent of girls under the legal age of 16 are married off. "Democracy and peace in Afghanistan is dependent on the elimination of violence and the full participation of women, as well as men of course, in decision-making processes that affect their lives and the future of the nation," Niland said.