Since March of 2007 until now, there has been a 40% increase in reports of physical violence against women in Afghanistan, according to United Nations sources.
The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) says that in many parts of the country security has decreased, while the sense of impunity has risen, public institutions are often weak, and poverty is widespread. But there are also cultural causes, like coerced marriage.
According to alarming data from Womankind Worldwide, a charitable British group, 80% of Afghan women suffer domestic violence, 60% of marriages are coerced, and half of women are married before the age of 16.
Suraya Subhrang, a member of the AIHRC, comments that "in spite of six years of international rhetoric on the emancipation of Afghan women, there has been no real change in the lives of millions of women". The group recorded 626 suicide attempts by women in 2007, with 130 deaths, many linked to physical and psychological violence.
The health care situation is even worse, with 1,600-1,900 women out of 100,000 dying in childbirth, a percentage that is second only to that of Sierra Leone. According to official UN data, each year at least 24,000 women in the country die from childbirth and infections related to it, and it is estimated that 87% of the deaths could be prevented. More than 70% of women do not receive medical care during pregnancy, 40% have no access to emergency obstetric care, and 48% suffer from iron deficiency.
Today the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, on the occasion of International Women's Day, asked governments and international organisations for "more investment on behalf of women and girls", "in order to reach the objective" of effective equality.
According to IRIN News (March 9, 2008):
Gender violence has reached “shocking and worrying” levels in Afghanistan and efforts must be redoubled to tackle it, the country’s human rights watchdog and civil society organisations said. “Our findings clearly indicate that despite over six years of international rhetoric about Afghan women’s emancipation and development, a real and tangible change has not touched the lives of millions of women in this country,” Suraya Subhrang, a commissioner on the rights of women at AIHRC, said.
Cases of rape and self-immolation appeared to be going up: “In 2006 we recorded 1,545 cases of violence against [or severe psychological oppression of] women, which included 98 cases of self-immolation and 34 cases of rape, while in 2007 we listed 2,374 cases of violence, which constitute 165 self-immolations and 51 cases of rape,” Subhrang told IRIN in Kabul.