Thursday, November 11, 2010

Violence Against Women in Afghanistan

On Monday, the New York Times ran an article entitled, "For Afghan Wives, a Desperate, Fiery Way Out," in which author Alissa Rubin described the plight of many Afghan women.
Rubin notes the many ways in which poverty and patriarchy have taken their toll on the women in her story. She states:

The choices for Afghan women are extraordinarily restricted: The family is their fate. There is little chance for education, little choice about whom a woman marries, no choice at all about her role in her own house. Her primary job is to serve her husband's family." According to Rubin, feelings of hopelessness and desperation lead a significant number of Afghan women to commit suicide through self-immolation, an inexpensive but excruciatingly painful form of suicide. Other women who end up at the Herat burn hospital have suffered similar burns at the hands of fathers, brothers, and in-laws, according to Dr. Shafiqa Eanin, a plastic surgeon at the burn hospital. Health care providers at the hospital noted that "The most sinister burn cases are actually homicides masquerading as suicides."
Rubin's article sheds light on an extremely troubling phenomenon that is certainly not unique to Afghanistan. In many parts of the world, women are killed in so-called honor killings, in which relatives kill a woman in an effort to restore the family honor that was allegedly sullied through some unpermitted contact between the woman and another man. A 2002 United Nations report notes that "honor killings" occur in Pakistan, Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Yemen, and Morocco, among others. Rubin describes how this plays out in Afghanistan: "Returned runaways are often shot or stabbed in honor killings because families feat they have spent time unchaperoned with a man."
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that as many as 5000 women are the victims of honor killings around the world each year. The Office of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women has been raising awareness about the issue for over a decade. Despite some progress in raising awareness about this form of gender-based violence, there is still a significant need for increased human rights advocacy on the issue, as Rubin's article makes abundantly clear.

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