UN-backed campaign seeks to stem ‘widespread’ violence against Afghan women

Girls attending the community-based school in the village of Hussain Khel (file photo)

30 November 2009 – The United Nations today called on all Afghans to take part in a 16-day campaign to end violence against women and girls, which it described as a “widespread and deeply rooted” problem in the country.

“Even though such violence is not openly condoned, neither is it adequately challenged nor condemned… either by society at large or by State institutions,” Norah Niland, the head of the Human Rights Unit at the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), told a news conference in Kabul.

She underscored the importance of Afghanistan’s participation in the “16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence,” a global campaign that runs from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day. This year’s theme is “Commit – Act – Demand: We CAN End Violence Against Women!”

The campaign is “an important reminder that women’s rights are human rights,” said Ms. Niland, whose unit prepared a report a few months ago, along with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), highlighting the extent of the problem in Afghanistan against a backdrop of impunity and a failure by authorities to protect women’s rights.

“The research for this report found that violence, targeted at women and girls, is widespread and deeply rooted in Afghan society and cultural norms,” she stated.

The research found that rape is under-reported and concealed, and affects all parts of the country, all communities, and all social groups. Women and girls are at risk of rape in their homes, in their villages, and in detention facilities, noted Ms. Niland, adding that while rape is not unique to Afghanistan, the country’s socio-political context “does have particular characteristics that exacerbate the problem.”

In addition, it was found that the political space for women, including for those who wish to advocate for their rights, is shrinking, she stated. “It is unrealistic to anticipate significant socio-economic progress when half the population is unable to participate in poverty reduction, reconstruction or development projects.”

The UN is supporting a diverse range of activities across Afghanistan to enhance awareness and mobilize action to tackle the scourge of violence against women.

“If progress is to be achieved, it must start at home, with parents, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters,” Ms. Niland emphasized.

“Democracy and peace in Afghanistan is dependent on the elimination of violence and the full participation of women, as well as men, in decision-making processes that affect the lives of individuals and the future of the nation.”


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