Written by Fariha
There is a common misconception in Afghanistan- and perhaps around the world- that education or high-income women don’t experience violence at home. Often, in discussions about gender-based violence, women are told to get an education and earn an income to be independent and free themselves of violence. This can be true for some women. Economic empowerment and education can help some women escape abuse at home, but that is not always the case and having an education or an income is not always enough.
In Afghanistan where 87% of Afghan women say they’ve faced violence at home, gendered violence exists across class and economic backgrounds. This is partly because in addition to some income and knowledge of their rights, women need legal, emotional, and societal support to seek freedom from abuse. If you’re educated and have an income, but seeking divorce will lead to you losing custody over your children, how likely are you to seek freedom? If you have an income but emotional and psychological abuse has shattered your self-confidence and separated you from your support systems, is it any easier to escape violence?
For years, I worked in a woman’s rights organization in Afghanistan that provided legal support to women survivors of violence. Even at this organization, many of my co-workers had experienced abuse at home. It was tragic that I worked in a legal assistance office for other women who were suffering from violence, yet we were sharing desks with women who had similar lives to those we were serving.
One of my co-workers, who not only had a decent income but also a university degree, was forced by her parents into marrying a relative. Her husband was abusive and violent. He beat her regularly and even tried to kill her on more than one occasion. They had three children together. To prevent losing custody over her children- which is what would happen to her under Afghanistan’s laws- her family pressured her into staying in the marriage for years.
After many years, she sought legal help from other colleagues in our office, but because of she didn’t have physical evidence of the violence and no adults would testify in her defense, she wasn’t able to get divorce. Instead she had to depend on her husband to divorce her. In exchange for the divorce and custody over her children, my colleague’s husband demanded money. My colleague accepted, saved for months, and was finally able to get a divorce.
This is just one of the many real stories of Afghan women facing violence. Until we have more just laws that hold abusers accountable and provide equal divorce and custody rights to women, no matter how educated women are or what their income is, abuse at home won’t
end. An income and an education can give some women a way out of abuse, but they are not enough, and all women whether illiterate or educated, poor or wealthy, deserve to live freely from violence.