IRIN, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, May 9, 2002

Women still suffering,
says RAWA

ISLAMABAD, 9 May 2002 (IRIN) - Gross violations of women's rights continue in Afghanistan, despite the fall of the hardline Taliban regime, an Afghan women's NGO told IRIN on Thursday. The statement followed a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on physical violence against women. "Our informants inside Afghanistan have reported that women are still being harassed and maltreated, especially in [the northern city of] Mazar-e Sharif," the spokeswoman for Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, Tahmeena Faryal said.

"Nothing has changed over the past six months. Women are still oppressed outside Kabul," she added. Faryal cited one recent case in April in which a man threw acid on a female teacher in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar, saying she should not have been at work. Under the Taliban regime, girls were not permitted to attend school and women were banned from working, forcing them into lead a restricted lifestyle.

"These hardline sexist people have not disappeared," she stressed, saying that the capital, Kabul was the only place where women could feel safe due to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). While acknowledging that some women were going out to work in Kabul, she noted that this was not the case in other parts of the country. "Mazar-e Sharif is one place we are concerned about, because [Rashid] Dostum the warlord is in control there, and he has been one of the most brutal in the past when it comes to women's rights," Faryal said.

Faryal's comments follow an HRW briefing paper which stated that Afghan women were continuing to fear physical violence and insecurity. In particular, sexual violence by armed factions and public harassment were still restricting women, it said. The document, entitled "Taking cover: Women in Post-Taliban Afghanistan", contains evidence of attacks and threats against women, including rape.

"The international community must act now to end violence against Afghan women," a researcher for HRW in New York, Farhat Bokhari, told IRIN, following an extensive trip to Afghanistan earlier this year. "Gang rape is common in Mazar, emphasising the fact that women are not even safe in their own homes," she said. HRW researchers were unable to ascertain whether these crimes had even been addressed, let alone investigated, by the local authorities.

While the situation of females is somewhat better in the Afghan capital, there were still problems, she said. "Although women in Kabul are relatively better off, some have told us that they were harassed when they tried to abandon their burkas [Islamic traditional dress covering a woman from head to toe]," she stressed. Bokhari maintained that increased funding for monitoring human rights was also crucial if this problem was to be tackled properly.

Both HRW and RAWA are calling on the international community to help improve the situation for Afghan women. "The women of Afghanistan need ISAF to protect them. The international community must ensure that there is an extension of its mandate to cover areas outside Kabul," Bokhari stressed.


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