KABUL, -- Twenty-four-year-old Zahra, weeps as she remembers the seven years of beatings and abuse she endured at the hands of her husband and his brother.
Like many Afghans, she goes by one name only and, similar to many Afghan women, she was married as a teenager.
“During the first five years of marriage, I used to think that my husband abused me because I couldn’t bear a child,” she told Radio Free Afghanistan between sobs. “But the violence increased after I gave birth to a son two years ago. My brother-in-law even broke my teeth as he gave a hard beating early this year.”
Zahra now lives in a shelter for women in the capital, Kabul.
Maria, a widow in her 20s in the southern city of Kandahar, sobs as she remembers her 6-year-old son.
“They didn’t show any mercy and took him away. They didn’t even consider that I was already going through a lot of pain after losing my husband,” she recalls of how the family of her late husband took away her son last year.
They are now pressuring her to give up her 4-year-old daughter, too. “I want my brothers and sisters to stand by me, so I can keep my daughter,” she said. “These are my children, and I don’t want to be separated from them.” In some Afghan communities, the children of a widow are given to her former in-laws if she remarries.
Maria’s second arranged marriage to a 50-year-old man is far from happy, either. She says her husband suffers from psychiatric disorders that make him jittery and abusive.
“He often tells me to leave his house,” she told Radio Free Afghanistan. “I really don’t know how to get on with my current husband as I also struggle with my former in-laws.”
Zahra and Maria are among the 6,449 documented cases of violence and abuse that Afghanistan’s Women Affairs Ministry says it has recorded from November last year till now.
“The prevailing war in the country, the lack of rule of law, and our inability to prevent strongmen from interfering in criminal cases are some of the contributing factor to the high levels of violence against women,” Delbar Nazari, Afghanistan’s minister for women affairs, told a November 25 gathering in Kabul. “The lack of women’s access to justice, particularly in the regions controlled by the insurgents, and the injustice meted to them by irregular courts [and jirgas] also contributes to the violence against women.”
Afghan women, both in cities and the countryside, suffer from violence and abuse. Domestic violence is common while forced marriages, marriages to settle disputes, sexual abuse, and violence such as honor killings and grave injuries to women are common. Women are often deprived of inheritances, education, and the rights guaranteed them under Afghan law.
Roya Dadrus, a spokeswoman for the ministry, says most of the incidents were registered in the provinces of Kabul, Herat, Kandahar, and Balkh. These provinces contain the capital city and some of the largest cities in the country of an estimated 30 million people.
“Overall, the violence levels appear to be unchanged,” she told Radio Free Afghanistan on November 25. “The figures we have for this year are not much different from those we had during the same period the previous year.”
The figures were released on November 25 to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
The ministry says it has forwarded some 2886 cases to the government’s investigative agencies and courts while it has provided lawyers to 456 defendants. Out of the complaints 682 have been solved through successful mediation between the parties. The ministry has also forwarded 2425 cases to groups working for women rights.
Begging on November 25, the Afghan ministry of women affairs launched a 16-day awareness campaign against violence against women across the country.