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Plight of Afghan women risks getting worse PDF Print E-mail
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Mon Dec 7, 2009
KABUL (AFP) - A leading rights group Monday accused the Afghan government of failing to protect women from endemic violence such as rape and murder and from discrimination, warning that their plight risks getting worse.

The US-based Human Rights Watch urged world powers to stay focused on women's rights in Afghanistan as President Barack Obama deploys an extra 30,000 US troops as part of a revamped strategy to fight the resurgent Taliban.

"Eight years after the fall of the Taliban, women and girls suffer high levels of violence and discrimination, and have poor access to justice and education," HRW said in a 96-page report.


"The Afghan government has also failed to bring killers of prominent women in public life to justice, creating an environment of impunity for those who target women," it said. Banned from public life under the iron-fisted Taliban regime from 1996 until the 2001 US-led invasion, women still struggle for their rights in the impoverished, deeply conservative and war-torn country.

HRW said gains made since 2001 in areas such as education, work and freedom of movement are under serious threat as the Taliban insurgency gains ground and fundamentalist factions in government strengthen.

"The situation for Afghan women and girls is dire and could deteriorate," said Rachel Reid, Afghanistan researcher at HRW.

The rights group highlighted a catalogue of abuse of women -- death threats and intimidation, murders of several high-profile figures, gang rape and young girls being forced into marriage.

But it said the attitude of the courts or police was often hostile towards women, with the government failing to prosecute the perpetrators of attacks.

In addition, it said, "studies suggest that more than half the women and girls in detention are being held for 'moral crimes', such as adultery or running away from home".

HRW said it was vital that the rights of female Afghans were not neglected by the government and the international community "while the world focuses on the Obama administration's new security strategy".

"Women are not a priority for our own government or the international community," MP Shinkai Karokhail was quoted as saying. "We've been forgotten."

Only 12.6 percent of women over the age of 15 can read and write, and 57 percent of girls are married off under the legal age of 16, the UN says.

But a senior official in Afghanistan's women's affairs ministry, which was created after the Taliban were ejected from power, insisted the government had done much for women in the past eight years.

"It's not correct to say we've done nothing," said Shakila Afzalyar, deputy head of the ministry's legal department.

"Before the ministry was established women even didn't know about their rights. They didn't know how to confront violence at all, but now they know they can stand against violations," she told AFP.

Her department has helped about 6,000 women, she said, but acknowledged most were from the capital Kabul, whereas women in rural areas and the south, where the Taliban are strong, have less access to the ministry.

Since the Taliban were ousted, Afghan girls have had the right to schooling and women have been able to re-enter the workforce.

Girls' enrollment in grades one to 12 at school has "skyrocketed" from 839,000 to 2.2 million from 2004 to 2008, according to the World Bank.

But progress has been slow, according to surveys by the UN Development Fund for Women, which estimates that nearly 90 percent of women in Afghanistan are subjected to domestic violence.

Islamist insurgents routinely attack newly restored girls' schools and the parliament has yet to approve a draft law on violence against women.

Rights groups have also accused President Hamid Karzai's government of formalising discrimination against Shiite women with a new family law.

HRW said the law gives a husband the right to withdraw basic support from his wife, including food, if she refuses his sexual demands and that guardianship of children is granted only to fathers and grandfathers.

It also requires women to get permission from their husbands to work and effectively allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by paying "blood money" to his victim, the report said.

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