There is absolutely a war on women being waged right now. In Afghanistan.
According to a Human Rights Watch report released Wednesday, women in Afghanistan are being arrested for “moral crimes,” including such treasons as running away from abusive husbands and fleeing child marriages. Some women were even kidnapped, accused of having sex with their kidnappers, and consequently thrown in jail.
Human Rights Watch reports that, while accurate statistics are not publicly available, there were approximately 400 women and girls imprisoned in Afghanistan for “moral crimes.” That turns out to be about half of all adult women and all the teenage girls currently locked up in the country.
Little has been done to right this wrong. In 2009, Afghan president Hamid Karzai passed the Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, banning forced and underage marriages, domestic violence, rape, and other abuses against women. Yet, as Human Rights Watch reports, many of the police officers in the country either ignore this law or ignore testimony from the abused women because they are considered immoral and liars.
Add to this these women can rarely go back to their families when they are released from their long jail terms. They are accused of shaming their families for their actions.
Some brave non-governmental organizations have set up shelters for these women in the country, but they are few and far between and considered anything but safe. One woman was even arrested in a shelter for fleeing her abusive husband.
While, since the end of the Taliban rule, women’s rights have expanded in Afghanistan, the progress is far from enough. Education is more accessible, yet half of all girls still don’t attend school. Human Rights Watch also reports that an Afghan woman or girl dies of pregnancy-related causes every two hours, often because girls are forced to marry young and have children before their bodies are ready.
There are heroic programs right now helping Afghan women participate in democracy, launch their own businesses, rebuild their lives after surviving war, and even help govern their country. The National Democratic Institute, the Women’s Democracy Network of the International Republican Institute, the George W. Bush Institute, and Women for Women International are just a few of the organizations working to advance women’s human rights in Afghanistan.
Still, until we can assure these women’s safety, until they can walk down a street without fear of being kidnapped, until they can report abuse to local authorities with the knowledge that, not only will they not be thrown in jail but their claims will be taken seriously and honestly investigated, the future for Afghan women, their children and their country is bleak.
As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at the 1995 U.N. Women’s Conference in Beijing, “… human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” Women are the lifeblood of all nations and as long as Afghanistan fails to recognize the equal rights and humanity of its women, it is destined to fail as a nation. Afghanistan must wake up.
Michelle D. Bernard is the president and CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy. Follow her on Twitter @michellebernard.