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BBC, December 26, 2006

Afghan women suffer daily violence

Increasing numbers of Afghan women are resorting to desperate measure to try to escape situations like these.

Five years ago, after the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan's new government pledged swift action to improve the lives of women.

But a recent report by the international women's organisation Womankind Worldwide said millions of Afghan women and girls continue to face discrimination and violence in their day-to-day lives.

The BBC's Afghan service has been talking to Afghan women about their lives.

Afghan women's rights groups acknowledge that women now have a variety of rights which they didn't have under Taliban rule.

But in practice, they say, many of those rights are ignored.

And activists face intimidation, or worse.

In September, the head of the Women's Affairs Ministry in the southern city of Kandahar, Safia Amajan, who'd criticised the Taliban's treatment of women, was shot dead.

One of her former colleagues, who was too afraid to give her name, says since then activists have been staying home.

There are many opportunities to work here, she says.

There's a lot to do, but there's no security so women don't want to leave their homes.

They think about what happened to Safia Amajan and they're afraid the same thing will happen to them.

'He beats me'

All Afghans are affected by worsening security. But for women, widespread domestic violence is an additional problem.

"My husband beats me whenever he feels like it," a young mother of three from Kabul told the BBC.

"Once he broke my arm, then my legs. Now he's broken my arm again. I try not to make a fuss because of the children."

Hamayra Daqiq, a policewoman in Kabul, says women like this turn up at the city's central police station every day looking for help.

"There are many reasons why domestic violence happens," she says.

"One big reason is poverty. Many parents marry their daughters off to wealthy, older men when the girls are very young, often when they are underage.

"Another reason is where a family resolves a dispute with another family by handing over one of their daughters. The girl usually gets treated really badly by the second family."

About 57% of Afghan girls are married before the legal marriage age of 16; about 60-80% of marriages are forced.

Homeyra, an 18-year-old student from Mazar-e Sharif in the north, was promised in marriage to a much older man when she was just a few months old.

He's now returned to claim her and she's distraught.

"I went to the police," she said. "But they couldn't help me. His family says if I don't go through with the marriage then my father should kill me."

Many women who spoke to the BBC also said that they had tried and failed to get help from the police.

It's a problem which Humayra the policewoman acknowledged: "We just don't have enough experienced female officers to follow up all the complaints," she said.


And even when the police do intervene, they don't always manage to achieve results.

"The police have been to see my husband several times and they made him sign a written undertaking not to beat me anymore," said the young Kabul mother with the broken arm.

"But it just doesn't make any difference. I've asked my parents and my brother for help, but they always say, we are poor people, we can't afford to take you back."

Increasing numbers of Afghan women are resorting to desperate measure to try to escape situations like these.

Shaimi Amini an assistant doctor at Herat hospital in western Afghanistan, said she was seeing more and more cases recently of women setting fire to themselves.

"During the past five days we've had four cases. In the last six months we've had 53 cases," she said.

"If someone in the family sees what's happening and acts fast enough then there's more of a chance to save these girls. But in many cases they die.

"The girls who survive are often terribly disfigured. They need lots more surgery and so they face even more suffering to come."

Afghanistan's Women's Affairs Ministry now says it's trying to introduce a new bill to prevent violence against women.

But it will also realise that even if a new law is eventually passed, in practice it may be difficult to ensure that it is widely enforced.

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