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16. July 2012

Afghanische Frau mit Burka

The situation of Afghan women is increasingly dramatic (Photo: Clemens Fabry, Die Presse)

Afghanistan: „There is a War On Women Here“

Austrian newspaper "Die Presse" asked for Edit Schlaffer's expert opinion on the situation for Afghan women which is worsening by the day. Not only does the Islamist Taliban movement disregard their rights, but so does the state.

The pictures are reminiscent of those taken during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan: a burqa-clad woman cowers on the dusty ground; a man holding an automatic weapon stands behind her. He opens fire, and keeps shooting even after she lays lifeless on the ground. Approximately 150 villagers have gathered in the background, and they shout and cheer. One says: “it is Allah’s command that she be put to death.” The murder, which took place in early July, was filmed. The accusation: the 22-year-old woman, who was married to a Taliban fighter, supposedly had an affair with another Taliban officer. After the execution of the alleged adulteress, the provincial government claimed that the village—only one hour away from Kabul by car—was under Taliban control at the time of the shooting. But the Taliban have denied any involvement in the event. 

“The execution was a symbolic act of contempt of women and the Western, international community,” says Edit Schlaffer, founder and director of the organization “Women without Borders”. The execution took place only a few days before an Afghanistan conference in Tokyo. Soon after the donor nations announced that they would support Afghanistan through the injection of over 16 billion dollars [beginning in 2014], video footage of the murder appeared online. 

The Taliban Burn Schools 

„The situation for women in the country has rapidly declined over the past several years,“ so Schlaffer. There remain very few women’s rights groups such as the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (Rawa), which was active underground even during the Taliban rule. “The women are scared, they have become very cautious.” Schlaffer does not know where the activists are today, as she has lost contact with them. 

The Taliban continue to burn down girls schools. Young girls are also still used as bargaining chips; they are forced to marry far older men. “The situation for women was not much worse under the Russians, at least education for girls was mandatory,” says Schlaffer. Girls do receive education in the urban centers, but it may be very different in the countryside: “we don’t know, there are no statistics.” As long as women are forced to marry their rapists, however, it is not possible to speak of education as the key to self-empowerment. 

Equality Only on Paper 

After the fall of the Taliban in 2001 there was hope for a better future, says Schlaffer, “but now the country has become a playing field for international interests.” Corruption and poor planning have led to a loss of faith in politics. The international community focused on using military tactics to defeat the Taliban, rather than building up civil society and bolstering women’s rights. There is a clause about equality in Afghanistan’s constitution, but “only on paper, in order to please the West,” says Schlaffer. 

In reality, the laws protect the strongest. Four witnesses are necessary to prove adultery, for example, but only men are able to mobilize such witnesses. Women who turn to the police for help in cases of domestic violence are told to keep quiet. “In Afghanistan,” says Schlaffer, “there is a war on women.” 

The murder of the young woman earlier this month was not a unique occurrence; public attacks are frequent. Many already look to the impending international troop draw-down with concern, because they fear that Afghanistan will then lose its place on the global stage. “The government is very weak, President Hamid Karzai has no power beyond the limits of Kabul,” says Schlaffer. And the Taliban remain strong. “They are seen as negotiating partners who must be placated. There can be no political deal without their involvement.“ 

60 Billion Dollars in Aid 

Since the US-led military intervention that led to the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, between 47 and 60 billion dollars in aid have been poured into Afghanistan. “If you are going to intervene, you also need to do so at the societal level,” criticizes Schlaffer. Resolutions are not enough. Before money is made available, it is vital to lay out real conditions for receiving such aid. 

„The women were a welcome excuse to invade the country,” says the Executive Director of Women without Borders, “but now they unfortunately no longer seem to be relevant.” 

The public execution of the young woman, approximately one hundred kilometers north of Kabul, has become a source of international outrage. 

On the video, one can see how the young woman is shot amidst the encouraging cheers of dozens of men. She was accused of cheating on her husband, a Taliban fighter, with a Taliban commander. The Taliban themselves denied any involvement in the execution. 

The situation for women in Afghanistan is getting more dramatic, warns Edit Schlaffer of “Women without Borders.” 

(Siobhán Geets, “Die Presse”, print edition, 16.7.2012)


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