Domestic violence against Afghan women appears endemic, and attacks against them usually take place with impunity, according to a disturbing new report by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).
Uncounted and Discounted, a study of more than 1,300 cases reported to authorities between January 2003 and June 2005, found that violence against women – whether sexual, physical or psychological – affects all branches of Afghan society, regardless of the woman’s marital status or her level of education or employment.
At a briefing in Kabul today, UNIFEM’s Afghanistan Director Meryem Aslan told reporters that local women seeking help from violence need improved access to public services, given that the traditional support structure for women – the family – is often the source of the violence.
“I would guess if Afghanistan progresses better economically, and women and men in this country get a better economic situation, women will at least be able to seek help more easily,” she said.
More than eight out of every 10 acts of violence is committed by a family member such as a husband, father-in-law, son or cousin. In many of the remaining cases the perpetrator is someone known to the woman. The study found that women committed about 10 per cent of the violent acts.
Ms. Aslan cited several examples of cases examined in the study, including one where village elders ruled that a six-year-old girl who had been promised in marriage to an older man who then died should marry another member of his family instead, despite the girl’s refusal. In another case, a woman was charged and jailed for adultery was then raped by prison guards and not allowed to see her children.
The study was conducted in part because there is very little research or formal records of violence against in women, Ms. Aslan added, and most experts suspect that the violence is widely under-reported.
But she said there are limited attempts to tackle the problem, including safe houses for victims of domestic violence in the cities of Kabul, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif and some legal aid programmes.