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The Associated Press, March 8, 2007

Women's Day in a Dream for Some Afghans

"No one will bring me flowers. My husband won't even bring me a stone"

By ALISA TANG

KABUL, Afghanistan - Qamar laughed bitterly at the idea of International Women's Day, as if it were a cruel joke.

As a woman encouraged by relatives to marry her stalker - who was 20 years her senior, had three other wives and now beats her regularly - Qamar found it preposterous that anyone would ever celebrate her existence.

"No one will bring me flowers. My husband won't even bring me a stone," the 45-year-old woman said with a cynical smile as she recounted her woes. "March 8th is for foreigners because they have good lives. I don't know anything about March 8th."

Perhaps nowhere else in the world do women more desperately need a day to celebrate their existence, given the bleak reality for millions of women in this war-torn country.

Since the fall of the ultraconservative Taliban regime five years ago, 2 million girls have returned to school, and women can leave their homes unaccompanied. They also hold 68 seats in the 249-member National Assembly.

But those headline successes haven't cured the underlying horrors: Officials estimate at least half of women are forced into marriage and one out of three has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused.

Qamar, who like many women in Afghanistan goes by one name, said her husband lost his defense ministry job after the Taliban came to power and the couple moved to his home in Kapisa, north of Kabul, where his other wives lived.

There, he fell in love again with his third wife, who bore him children, and the beatings began. Qamar suffered complications in her first pregnancy and was unable to have children.

She threatened divorce and ran out of the home to complain to a district elder and a mullah, or religious leader. She said her husband dragged her back inside the house so violently that one of his older sons demanded, "What are you doing? You're killing her!"

Her husband threatened to kill her brother if he interfered. Qamar stayed with a cousin for three months, but he called her a burden, so now she's back in her abusive home.

"There's no one to help me. I have to live with them. I have no choice," Qamar said, grabbing a corner of the black scarf covering her hair and shoulders to wipe at her tears.

Her tale is echoed by millions of women in Afghanistan, where domestic violence is socially tolerated. Roughly two out of five Afghan marriages are forced, while 45 percent are married by age 18, says the country's Ministry of Women's Affairs.

- Every 28 minutes a woman dies in Afghanistan during childbirth
- 54 percent of Afghan children are born stunted
- The fertility rate in Afghanistan is the world's second highest at 7.5 children per woman, according to UNDP's 2006 Human Development Report.
IRIN News, Feb. 16, 2007

According to UNIFEM, the U.N. Development Fund for Women, at least one out of three Afghan women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused, and the abuser is usually a family member or someone she knows. Rarely is anyone prosecuted or even reprimanded.

"Ending impunity is not just the government's responsibility - everyone in Afghan society, men and women, has a responsibility to act when confronted with such violence," said Richard Bennett, human rights chief for the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

The government and women's rights organizations have made significant strides in the past five years.

On Wednesday, the women's ministry and rights group Medica Mondiale started a campaign to encourage marriage registration, a legal process before a judge that they hope will cut down on forced and child marriages.

Another organization, Women for Afghan Women, opened a family guidance center Wednesday to help victims of rape, domestic violence, and forced and underage marriages.

Still, their struggle is up against daunting hurdles - continuing instability after decades of war, dire poverty and lack of education.

One young mother sitting in Women for Afghan Women's office exemplified the challenges.

Beshta married at the age of 14. Her husband was killed under the Taliban regime, and she and her 4-year old daughter now live with her father and his second wife. She has been beaten so often her memory has faded. She does not know her age, but looks as though she is in her early 20s.

Her speech is punctuated by long, pensive pauses. She stared blankly into the space, with wide, vacant eyes that welled up as a social worker described the young widow's life.

Asked what she most wanted now in life, Beshta thought for a while and muttered softly: "Somebody to take care of me and my child."

Category: Women - Views: 7636


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