Violence against women is one of most prevalent forms of human rights violations in Afghanistan. It is also a major obstacle to progress and development in the country. Afghanistan ranks 169th out of 188 in the Gender Inequality Index created by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). This is an indication of an unacceptable level of gender inequality, which contributes to violence. There are many factors to gender inequality and violence against women, including patriarchal traditions, an inept justice system, lack of prosecution of perpetrators of violence, and discriminatory gender roles. Men have an important responsibility in preventing and eradicating violence against women in Afghanistan. Here are four ways we can contribute.
Acknowledge violence against women as a problem in the country.
First of all, Afghan men must unequivocally accept that violence against women is part of the reality of our country, gender inequality is widespread, and it is harming our society. Credible academic and international sources have proven that gendered violence is shockingly prevalent in Afghanistan. UN Women prepares a comprehensive report about the status of women all over the world annually. In their latest report about women’s situation in Afghanistan they’ve confirmed that:
- 87% of women in Afghanistan have faced violence at least once, of which 62% have faced multiple forms of violence.
- 59% of women have faced forced marriages.
- 57% of the brides in Afghanistan were below the age of 16 and many “were given away” to settle financial debts.
According to Human Rights Watch, only in the first eight month of 2016, more than 2,621 cases of violence against women were filed with Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission. These cases include killing, beating, severing of body parts, or suicide to escape violence. Unfortunately, we witness such reports about Afghanistan from media and human rights organizations every year. We also see reports of violence in local news on a weekly basis. Despite all the evidence, most Afghan men rarely accept violence against women as a problem or talk about it publicly.
The disservice caused by gender inequality and violence against women doesn’t only affect women; rather it hurts the society as whole. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that if gender inequality in labor is eradicated, about $28 trillion could be added to the global GDP (Gross Domestic Product) annually. Similarly, according to the World Economic Forum, if gender inequality is eliminated in U.S., France and Germany and England, each will have $175 billion, $300 billion, and 250 billion increase in their GDP respectively. Violence against women and gender inequality do not only harm women rather they impact all facets of life in society negatively. By the same token, there’s no doubt that violence against women in Afghanistan is extensive and to deny this is nothing more than ignorance that perpetrates violent behavior.
Don’t be a bystander. Take action and start from your own family.
Once we recognize gender inequality as a problem, we shouldn’t be bystanders anymore. We should take action. The first step is to begin in our own families. When we witness our fathers, mothers, brothers, uncles or anyone else discriminate against women, we should speak up and raise our voice. If our parents discriminate among their sons and daughters, we should stand against the inequality. If our sisters, wives, or our daughters are not well aware of their rights and do not speak against gender inequality, we should encourage them to learn and talk. We should reiterate that in all cases they are equal to us, and they have the right to make their own choices. If we see that the resources in our homes are divided unequally, we should speak out and make changes.
Support women and take part in their empowerment.
Patriarchal structures and cultural practices in Afghanistan lead to discriminatory definitions of gender roles in families. Traditionally, Afghan women are limited to housekeeping, cooking, cleaning, and sometimes for the purposes of attending and serving the men in the family. On the other hand, the men bring in the income, and have freedom of choice, control over resources and women’s behavior, and employment and education opportunities. In the context of this culture even women internalize misogyny. This means that many women accept patriarchal values, perpetrate them, and even fight to promote them. But as men, we have the opportunity to be more aware and stand next to the women in our families. We should speak with our sisters about their individual rights and encourage them to take steps against discriminatory behaviors and not give up. We should no longer use insecurity outside the home as an excuse to limit the women in our families. We shouldn’t prevent them from vocational and academic opportunities due to the presence of forms of harassment, especially street harassment. Instead we must work hard to make the environment at home and outside safe for women.
Speaking about women’s rights and preventing violence against women is not shameful. We need to spark the conversation everywhere with everyone.
It is the responsibility of men to challenge traditional and patriarchal definitions of masculinity. We know that inequality and violence against women is wrong and it hurts all of us and we should not be afraid to talk about women’s rights. In all social gatherings and friendly meetings, we should speak about our responsibility in preventing violence against women. We shouldn’t be afraid that our friends will label us as “weak” and instead challenge them. There is nothing shameful or “unmanly” about advocating for women’s human rights. It is a true matter of shame if we are aware of and witness the depth of injustice and inequality and remain silent.
Read this piece in Persian here. Translation by: Free Women Writers member Rohina Sediqui.
Feature image from Free Women Writer’s campaign in collaboration with Star Educational Society in Kabul, Afghanistan.