In general, a woman who does not disappear inside a burqa or who does not keep a ground-level profile in Afghanistan is in danger of death at any time. This is despite the fact that eleven years have passed since the “victory” over the Taliban who made it a priority to oppress women. Of course women today may vote in Afghanistan and, if they can, go to school (except in the areas where the Taliban or the warlords forbid it). To understand how the implementation of the cancellation of laws forbidding violence against women still has a long way to go, it is sufficient to visit women’s prisons and see the young girls and women arrested because they were victims of brutal forms of violence in the family or in society. A UN enquiry concentrating precisely on the inefficacy of the law forbidding violence against women that was introduced in 2009 (Elimination of Violence Against Women), gives the example of a 15 year old girl living in Herat who was beaten by her husband and father-in-law. When she found the courage to report the matter, she was told to go back home or be put in jail. Another example is that of a woman who was strangled by her husband because she gave birth to a daughter instead of a son. The 2009 law forbids the marriage of female children and their buying or selling, as well as attacks or other forms of violence against women. The UN report states that violence against women is not reported because of cultural resistance, “social norms and taboos.” At the same time, the document shows some progress in the “registration and application of the law.” We add that, in Afghanistan, some women set themselves on fire. They soak themselves in liquid gas (kitchen gas sold in small containers) and set themselves alight.
The Revolutionary Association of the Women
In 1977, a handful of women activists from Meena Kamal began the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. The movement existed during the forty years of total instability in the country due to the two wars it suffered. The foundress was assassinated in 1987 but her place was taken by others. It is a minority group but it never fails to intervene against the oppression of women and to defend the impoverished strata of society, despite the fact that its members work in a semi-clandestine way. They give oppressive investigators as few details as possible and always under false names. In fact, their names are common and these courageous girls aim at concrete acts. They are present in all the provinces of the country and in nearby Pakistan, where generations of militants over the years have been recruited, trained, and educated in refugee camps. They begin their activity very young, only 13 or 14 years old, learning from more experienced companions. They believe there will be no big changes in the short term and that the foreign occupation will continue even if in new ways, since the USA will leave a limited number of ground troops. US imperialism continues to use the country for its geopolitical strategy, keeping the bases at Herta and Khandar for airborne combat while preparing other structures.
About 125 detainees live in “The almond trees garden” prison (in Pashtu). Half are there for crimes like drug-trafficking, murder, or attempted suicide. The other half are serving sentences for “moral crimes”, including running away from home and adultery. In Afghanistan, where the line between sin and crime has not yet been approved by law, adultery also and above all means extramarital sex. Before the prison was opened, women were detained in the same prison as men, leading to widespread episodes of rape. Now the women feel more secure. The children go to prison with their mothers until they are five years old and then end up in orphanages. They number around seventy and the prison has organised a sort of play school where they draw and sing supervised by a female prisoner. The children run and play all day in the rooms with open doors. The women should clean and tidy the rooms every morning (one way of passing the endless hours). Five women condemned to death have languished there for years. Three started a hunger strike to protest against the unjust and corrupt system. Lianne Gutcher, a journalist from the British daily “The Independent,” collected their stories. These are stories of powerlessness, sexual abuse, and social marginalisation. Gul Guncha killed her husband in self-defence after he raped her seven-year-old daughter, sold another two-and-a-half-year-old, and wanted to give a third child away. The court did find any extenuating circumstances, condemning her to death. Two other women condemned to death for killing their husbands, Aisha Khalil and Sayeed Begum, claim innocence and are on a hunger strike. Aisha (accused by her brother-in-law whom she refused to marry after her husband’s death) claimed she was forced to sign a confession. Sayeed instead says she was offered a pardon in return for money. The Afghan government insists that no woman has been hanged since it came to power and does not exclude the possibility of a pardon. It is more likely that the sentences will be commuted to life imprisonment. While the courts delay their verdict, there is no brighter future in sight. (M.B.)