by Frozan Rahmani
Afghan women and girls continue to have their rights trampled due to harmful traditional practices in all communities throughout the country, the United Nations said on Thursday.
Swift implementation of laws protecting females, particularly the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law, was required to end the detrimental traditions, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) official said.
Releasing a 56-page report, the UNAMA human rights director told a news conference in Kabul that child and forced marriage, giving away girls to settle disputes, exchange marriages and honour killings were occurring in different parts of the country.
Georgette Gagnon said the report, prepared in cooperation with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, marked International Human Rights Day on December 10 and the end of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence campaign.
Based on research, discussions and interviews carried out in nearly all 34 provinces of Afghanistan with women, men, government authorities, religious leaders and community groups, the report said such practices happened in rural and urban communities.
"As long as women and girls are subject to practices that harm, degrade and deny them their human rights, little meaningful and sustainable progress for women's rights can be achieved in Afghanistan," observed Gagnon.
Legal and constitutional safeguards, as well as their adequate enforcement, were needed to ensure Afghan women's participation in public life, including in the reconciliation process and equal opportunities in education and employment, she added.
Blaming the Karzai administration for failing to protect the rights of women and girls, the document notes most harmful practices are not only crimes under Afghan law, but are also inconsistent with the Shariah.
Some religious and community leaders reinforced the practices, it alleged, saying many Afghans suggested one way to deal with the situation was to train religious leaders with on women's rights.
The report found many marriages in Afghanistan were forced because a woman's free and informed consent was rarely sought. With regard to child marriage, women in Balkh quoted a popular saying: "If you hit a girl with your hat and she doesn't fall over, it's time to marry her."
The consequences of child marriage are lasting and damaging to the health, education and well-being of girls in Afghanistan, which has the worst rate of maternal mortality in the world. The report said police and judicial staff often failed to enforce laws protecting women’s rights and took a selective approach to administer justice.
The UN mission urged the government, religious leaders, communities, civil society and international donors to take all possible steps to end harmful traditional practices and fully implement the EVAW law.