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Afghan Men Speak Up About Domestic Violence

According to one researcher, Afghan men have become subject to violence at the hands of their wives or mothers-in-law, with the majority of them suffering mental and verbal abuse. (file photo)
According to one researcher, Afghan men have become subject to violence at the hands of their wives or mothers-in-law, with the majority of them suffering mental and verbal abuse. (file photo)
Sabur has moved out of his marital home on the outskirts of Mazar-e Sharif. It was the only way to escape the domestic abuse he suffered at the hands of his wife.

"We've been constantly having arguments, and sometimes my wife loses her cool and gets violent," Sabur says, pointing to a bruise and cut on his forehead. In an almost apologetic tone, he cites his money problems and the lack of employment opportunities in the northern Afghan city as the root causes of his suffering.

"I can't find work and can't provide for my family," he says. "Obviously, when I come home empty-handed, it annoys my wife. Once she hit my forehead with the heel of her shoe. But I don't want people to know about my situation because I live in Afghan society, and it could ruin my honor and reputation if people hear about it."

Looking for someone to confide in, he turned to the regional office of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, (AIHRC). And with the help of accounts provided by Sabur and other men, the commission has been able to address an issue little heard about in Afghanistan's male-dominated society -- men subjected to domestic spousal abuse.

According to a report issued by the AIHRC this month, the number of reported incidents of domestic violence in which men were the victims is on the rise. Whether the number of cases is actually growing, or the figures reflect a better system and environment for reporting abuse, or some other factor is responsible for the findings is unclear.

But it is obvious that even those who step forward do so with great caution. Sabur declined to provide his real name while speaking to RFE/RL. As the 32-year-old put it, "getting beaten by your wife and complaining about it is not what an Afghan man should do."

Sabur's wife, meanwhile, has refused to talk to the AIHRC, and declined to discuss her husband's allegations of abuse with RFE/RL.

Psychological Abuse

As noted by the AIHRC report, the overwhelming majority of victims in domestic-violence cases are women. Cases of physical abuse, forced marriages, and honor killings are well-documented, as are the difficulties women have in escaping the abuse and finding refuge.

The AIHRC and the Ministry of Women's Affairs documented nearly 4,000 cases of domestic violence cases nationwide during 2013, whereas the committee's latest report cited only about 20 cases of spousal abuse against men.

But Parwin Rahimi, the head of AIHRC's women's support department, suggests that overall men are the victims in about 10 percent of domestic-abuse cases, although much of that abuse is of a more psychological, rather than physical, nature.

"We've documented cases where men have become subject to violence at the hands of their wives, or mothers-in-law," she says. "But majority of the domestic violence against husbands is mental and verbal abuse."

In Mazar-e Sharif, where the AIHRC's regional office documented three reports of abuse filed by men, the victims "repeatedly suffered physical abuse at the hands of their wives."

Fawziya Nawabi, the head of the family department told RFE/RL that the men -- all unemployed and in their early 30s -- requested anonymity.

She explained that the report does not include instances in which violence was used in self-defense, focusing instead on cases in which a pattern of physical abuse can be documented.

Counseling Sessions

According to Nawabi, crushing poverty in the war-stricken country can drive both men and women to violence at home, and that religious and traditional taboos keep a lid on the problem.

For women, socializing outside the home -- going to the cinema, eating out, or even walking in a park -- is almost unheard of outside big cities.

"Frustrated by hardships and restrictions, sometimes women are taking it out on their husbands," Nawabi says. "Sometimes a small issue becomes the last straw."

"We had a case in summer when a wife punched her husband's face several times and then she took a knife and slashed his motorbike's tires," she says. "She was angry that he couldn't take her to a family picnic. The husband asked us to help them have a peaceful, happy marriage."

Nawabi says the AIHRC office has since organized several counseling sessions for the couple. It also provided the man with a small amount of money so he could take his wife and children to the picnic.

"We not only monitor such incidents, but we also try to help couples through consultation, advice, and counseling," Nawabi adds, noting that the AIHRC has offices in all 34 Afghan provinces.

The group has established 24-hour hotlines for victims of domestic and other abuse.

"I believe it's the rising profile of our group that many people, including men, have trusted us with family issues that they would not normally share with anyone else," Nawabi says.

She believes that there are many other Afghan men with similar problems, but they "don't speak up because of [perceived] prejudices."

All three of the couples documented in Mazar-e Sharif remain married. Divorce is not an easy option in Afghanistan as it's considered a disgrace.

Sabur, who sees his departure from his marital home as temporary, says he has no choice but to try to mend his marriage. Sabur was recently diagnosed with depression but he refuses to accept it, saying he needs a job to solve his problems, not medication.

He has repeatedly pleaded with local officials to help him find employment, and is still waiting for a response.

"I'm a very unfortunate man in a very unfortunate country," he says.