Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Dossiers

Dossier XXX: Afghan Women’s Rights and the New Phase of the Conflict

AAN Team 19 min

Afghan women are generally more talked about than heard from. From 1978 and the start of Afghanistan’s conflict onwards, the argument over women’s rights and roles has been an ideological fault line running through multiple phases of the war. Girls education, women in the workplace, women’s rights in marriage and the household, and in the public arena have all been debated – and condemned or promoted. With international troops now withdrawing and a new and bloody all-Afghan phase of the conflict already, it seems, upon the country, the question of what this will mean for Afghan women is urgent. An intensification of violence and/or the Taleban coming to rule more territory will disproportionately affect women and girls. AAN has recently published a number of studies touching on women and war and peace and so it seemed a good moment to bring together all our coverage of women’s issues in a new thematic dossier spanning from 2015 to the present. In it, we also re-publish reports on women in society and the economy, the politics of representation, and violence against women and girls.

Women’s Day celebrations at the UN Compound in Kabul. Photo: Mariam Alimi/UN Women/12 March 2017

Our pre-2015 reports on women can be found in: Dossier VI: Women, Rights and Politics.

The new dossier is organised along four themes: women, war and peace; women and the politics of representation; women in society and the economy and; violence against women and girls. Each section is organised chronologically, starting with the most recent publications.

I. Women, War and Peace

This section showcases a major new special report on the views of women living in rural areas about the conflict and the chances for peace. This section also considers the scant space women have found for themselves in the ‘peace process’. We look at the roles taken by the wives and mothers of Afghan Shia men who went to Syria to fight in its civil war: encouraging or trying to discourage their men from going to fight, the struggle to survive while menfolk area away, and for some, the ordeal of getting a dead body back, or coping with men who have returned injured or traumatised. We also look at the role American women soldiers have played in the United States deployment, of little use to the Afghan women and children whose ‘concerns’ they were assigned to ‘hear’, but important for the soldiers themselves in opening up new career paths.

II. Women and the politics of representation

Afghanistan scores highly in international comparisons for women’s representation in elected bodies, although typically only because of quotas, which means their presence is symbolic or they act as proxies for male relatives. Their ability to operate independently in office is further restricted by the hostile, patriarchal context within which they have to operate. Yet, as AAN reports from Daikundi and Ghor provinces show, there is light and shade. Daikundi – the second province in Afghanistan to have a woman governor – shows high levels of participation by women in politics as well as lower levels of domestic violence. In Ghor, where the appointment of a woman governor was rescinded by the government under pressure from conservative clerics, the first senior female attorney general in the province has battled on bravely despite considerable risk. To survive, women have often had to take the support of more conservative male colleagues and even undermine other women within parliament. The disunity of women – while explicable – has come at a cost. It caused a confrontation over the EVAW law, for example, and led to a missed opportunity to create a consensus on the peace process when they were already being denied a place at the table.

III. Women in society and the economy

Many gains have been wrested by Afghan women bit by bit, step by painful step. Their battles range from something as basic as overcoming the taboo on being named in public to the right to play sport without being harassed or targeted. In this section, we hear about one woman’s hard decision to stay behind to complete her medical training when the rest of her family emigrated to Iran. There are also the obituaries of four other extraordinary women – political activist Soraya Parlika, legal scholar Mahbuba Hoqoqmul and former minister for health General Suhaila Sediq – all of whom shaped their country’s history – and American historian, archivist and activist, Nancy Hatch Dupree. We also hear the story of a group of remarkable widows – members of one the most vulnerable groups in Afghan society – working together to create a community on a Kabul hill named Zanabad after them; they have even secured the respect of a society that is usually very unforgiving towards them. This section includes two reports on the particular impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on women’s lives, and another report on the access women living in rural areas have to healthcare. Finally, a central feature of many women’s lives – the bride price – is examined in two reports, one on a successful community imitative to reduce it in the Andar district of Ghazni to it staying high in northeastern Turkmen communities where a woman’s skill in carpet-making makes her a high earner.

IV. Violence against women and girls

The last section in the dossier brings together AAN reports examining violence against women in Afghanistan, whether from family members, the community, the state or insurgents. Three reports scrutinise the lynching of religious student Farkhunda in March 2015, exploring the brutality of her killing, the community’s role in condoning or opposing such violence, and the state’s inadequate response. While false allegations of blasphemy sparked Farkhunda’s killing, her gender coloured the nature of the violence against her. Brutal violence towards women is not isolated but rampant, as our analysis of a 2018 UN report and research on Ghor from 2016 show. The wider social acquiescence of violence against women and girls in the home is also evident from the fact that the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law had to be passed by presidential decree after parliament rejected it, while the harassment of women and girls remains widespread and barely penalised.

I. Women, war and peace

1. Between Hope and Fear: Rural Afghan women talk about peace and war (special report)

Author: Martine van Bijlert

Date: July 2021

As the United States pushes ahead with the rapid and unconditional withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, an unrelenting Taleban offensive has driven the Afghan government out of scores of districts across the country. Many Afghans are seeing their fears about the fallout from the ill-considered US-driven peace process come true. Against this backdrop, AAN’s new report by Martine van Bijlert probes the views and experiences, fears about war and hopes for peace of rural women across Afghanistan. Through in-depth conversations, ‘Between Hope and Fear: Rural Afghan women talk about peace and war’ provides a poignant and intimate context to what is happening, as large parts of the country are currently contested or have recently changed hands (again), making the report even more relevant today than when we embarked on it.

New special report: ‘Between Hope and Fear. Rural Afghan women talk about peace and war’

2. The Two Faces of the Fatemiyun (II): The women behind the fighters

Author: Mohsen Hamidi

Date: 16 July 2019

Existing studies on the Fatemiyun have focused on the Afghan men fighting for the Iran-backed government in Syria. The women behind the fighters – wives, mothers and sisters – have remained invisible, despite the fact that many fighters decided to go to Syria with family concerns in mind. Based on interviews with ten women in the Afghan city of Herat and Iranian capital Tehran, AAN guest author Mohsen Hamidi* uncovers what the Syrian war has meant for these Afghan women. They reveal the crucial role women played encouraging or trying to discourage their men from going to fight in Syria, the struggle of surviving without their menfolk, and for some, the ordeal of getting a dead body back, and for others, coping with men who have returned injured or traumatised. The interviews show how a faraway conflict has put many families in dispute with each other – not everyone viewed the Syrian war as a ‘jihad’ or believed the Fatemiyun had gone there out of piety.

The Two Faces of the Fatemiyun (II): The women behind the fighters

3. Women and Afghan Peace Talks: ‘Peace consensus’ gathering left Afghan women without reassurance

Author: Thomas Ruttig

Date: 15 April 2019 

One of the recurrent themes around the US-Taleban negotiations to end the Afghan war (so far without participation of the Afghan government) is the demand of Afghan women for “meaningfully participation” in the preparations for inclusive peace talks. This expectation also figured at a national consensus gathering (ejma) in Kabul in late February this year. The ejma – shortened from a two to a half day event – fell short of being an actual consultation. Nevertheless, the women’s broader campaign has influenced the Afghan and US’s messaging, although so far this has not resulted in any concrete steps. AAN’s Thomas Ruttig, who observed the ejma’s proceedings, looks back at the gathering and summarises the arguments (with input from AAN’s Rohullah Sorush who participated in the event and Sari Kouvo).

Women and Afghan Peace Talks: ‘Peace consensus’ gathering left Afghan women without reassurance

4. The 2018 Election Observed (7) in Daikundi: The outstanding role of women

Author: Ehsan Qaane

Date: 27 January 2019 

Like other provinces, the 2018 parliamentary election in Daikundi faced some technical, logistical and security challenges, but compared to other places these problems were limited. As a result, both the process and the outcome of the election have been largely uncontested. Women participation, both during voter registration and polling, was high: more women registered and voted in the province than men. Women also won half of the province’s parliamentary seats: two out of four. Political parties didn’t fare as well. Whereas in the last parliamentary elections all four seats were taken by political party candidates, in this election there were just two. AAN’s Ehsan Qaane, who was in Daikundi on election day, looks into the background of the province’s vote and tells us how the 2018 parliamentary election went.

The 2018 Election Observed (7) in Daikundi: The outstanding role of women

5. “Reach the Women”: The US military’s experiment of female soldiers working with Afghan women

Author: Gary Owen

Date: 20 June 2015 

In 2009, the United States military in Afghanistan started deploying female soldiers to the field so that they could interact with Afghan women during operations and patrols. A picture of life as a member of what were called Female Engagement and Cultural Support Teams has come in a recently published book, Ashley’s War, by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. AAN’s guest author Gary Owen (*) has been reading the book and looking at other sources in order to find out more about these units presented as going out to “hear children’s and women’s concerns.” The missions’ mandate was vague, he says, no tools were developed to monitor its success or failure and the female soldiers ended up doing all sorts of things, from teaching Native American culture to Afghan kids to holding women at gun point. For the US military, the experiment was a success; it spearheaded a significant shift in American military policy, opening up many positions to women that had not been available before. However, one thing the teams did not achieve, Gary Owen concludes, was help Afghan women.

“Reach the Women”: The US military’s experiment of female soldiers working with Afghan women

II. Women and the politics of representation

1. Afghanistan Elections Conundrum (20): Women candidates going against the grain

Author: Jelena Bjelica and Rohullah Sorush

Date: 19 October 2018 

On 20 October, more than 400 female candidates will compete for the 68 parliamentary seats reserved for women. Many more women – there are over three million registered female voters – will cast their votes on Saturday, in an attempt to have their say on who represents them in the lower house of the parliament. AAN’s Jelena Bjelica and Rohullah Sorush have been looking back at women’s political participation in earlier decades and hearing from female candidates in Afghanistan about running for office despite threats, campaigning (in some places) despite having to wear a burqa, and being told by men that it is a sin to vote for a woman.

Afghanistan Elections Conundrum (20): Women candidates going against the grain

2. Tired of the Estezah? Minister for Women’s Affairs survives vote of no confidence

Author: Thomas Ruttig

Date: 29 Jul 2016

The Minister for Women’s Affairs, Delbar Nazari, has narrowly survived a vote of no confidence in parliament earlier this month. This is the latest in a long series of such motions against ministers that have become a means of carrying out political confrontations by proxy in parliament since a long time. MPs, however, seem to have become tired of this practice themselves lately. AAN senior analyst Thomas Ruttig summarises these latest events (with contributions by Salima Ahmadi, who witnessed the debate in parliament, and Ehsan Qaane).

Tired of the Estezah? Minister for Women’s Affairs survives vote of no confidence

3. One Day in a Year: Afghan views on International Women’s Day

Author: Naheed Esar Malikzay

Date: 8 March 2015 

“The celebration of 8 March is a new concept, but Afghan women’s role in society has been respected for thousands of years,” President Ghani said in his speech for International Women’s Day on 5 March 2015, three days before the date. But if that is true, women’s rights activists asked after the event, why is Afghanistan still one of the most dangerous places in the world for women to live in? Women’s lives are still dominated by factors such as little opportunity to take part in political and social decision making, poor healthcare, education cut short early and domestic violence, says AAN’s Naheed Esar. Is International Women’s Day contributing anything to changing these circumstances? She comes to the conclusion that it needs fewer speeches and more action.

One Day in a Year: Afghan views on International Women’s Day

iii. Women in society and the economy

1. Rural Women’s Access to Health: Poverty, insecurity and traditions are the main obstacles

Author: Jelena Bjelica

Date: 9 July 2021

What do good health services look like for rural women in Afghanistan? How easy or difficult is it for them to access the basic health services that do exist in their area? Does insecurity have a different impact on access to health services for women and men? To answer these questions, we interviewed nineteen Afghan women from different rural districts of the country. As AAN’s Jelena Bjelica reports, the opinions and experiences these women shared show that although the reach of the health system has improved over the last two decades, poverty, insecurity and traditions continue to limit actual access for women. What also became clear in the interviews is that women are well–versed in critically assessing whether what is on offer meets their needs and expectations from the public health service.

Rural Women’s Access to Health: Poverty, insecurity and traditions are the main obstacles

2. “A Future of One’s Own”: One young woman’s struggle to thrive in modern Herat

Author: Reza Kazemi  

Date: 21 June 2021

At a time when the future of Afghanistan as a state and society is deeply uncertain, we bring to you an in-depth case study of the life choices of one university graduate who has grown up on the outskirts of the country’s northwestern city of Herat. Following Roya (pseudonym), her family and a group of friends intermittently over the last three years, AAN researcher Reza Kazemi came across the story of a graduate navigating a challenging social context – family, community and broader society – to shape a life and a future under conditions of uncertainty. She and the many women in her situation represent those who are likely to suffer the most from an intensification of the already devastating and ruthless war and possible breakdown in law and order. They also offer flickers of hope for the future.

“A Future of One’s Own”: One young woman’s struggle to thrive in modern Herat

3. Covid-19 in Afghanistan (7): The effects of the pandemic on the private lives and safety of women at home

Author: Khadija Hossaini

Date: 1 October 2020 

Covid-19 has had an alarming effect on Afghanistan, exacerbating poverty and reducing access to health care, in addition to the deaths and illness. The pandemic has also had specific consequences for women, particularly during lockdown, including increased levels of domestic violence and reduced access to schools and medical care. AAN’s Khadija Hossaini discovered that women also keenly felt the loss of their already limited private space, amid an increase in their unpaid workload at home, both of which have had severe ramifications for their mental health. With some fearing an increase of Covid-19 infections through the winter months, many women are bracing for a return of these problems. The report is based on interviews with women in Kabul, Bamyan, Daikundi and Balkh province.

Covid-19 in Afghanistan (7): The effects of the pandemic on the private lives and safety of women at home

4. Covid-19 in Afghanistan (5): Snapshots of women’s living under coronavirus in and around Herat city

Author: Reza Kazemi

Date:  22 July 2020

In Herat, Afghanistan’s second most-infected province, women have been disproportionately hit by the secondary effects of Covid-19. AAN researcher Reza Kazemi has been hearing from women in the province about extra care and housework, increased levels of domestic violence, greater restrictions on movement and their concerns about their children, given school closures. He also finds women adapting, contributing in critical ways to the society and gradually trying to change life for the better.

Covid-19 in Afghanistan (5): Snapshots of women’s living under coronavirus in and around Herat city

5. Rug Weavers and Bride Prices in the Northwest: Still expensive in spite of government and Taleban rules

Author: Obaid Ali

Date: 12 May 2019

Weddings in Afghanistan are often an expensive and ‘back-breaking’ affair. A government law to change the expensive wedding culture remains largely unimplemented and there seems to be little will to enforce it. The Taleban have also imposed an assortment of rules for controlling wedding costs in areas under their command, which vary depending on the area and commander. In practice, their edicts have had limited impact. This is particularly the case in the Turkic dominated provinces of the northwest, where bride prices and wedding ceremony costs are often driven up by a bride’s carpet-weaving skills. In this dispatch, AAN’s Obaid Ali looks at the social culture of weddings among the Turkic community and finds that in spite of government laws, Taleban pressure and local initiatives, the culture of holding expensive weddings remains firmly in place.

Rug Weavers and Bride Prices in the Northwest: Still expensive in spite of government and Taleban rules

6. AAN Obituary: Doctor, general, minister, trailblazer Suhaila Sediq (1938-2020)

Author: Thomas Ruttig

Date: 10 Dec 2020

General Dr Suhaila Sediq, one of two female ministers in the first post-Taleban government, died on 4 December 2020 from complications of a second Covid-19 infection. Sediq who had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for several years died in the same hospital she ran for over a quarter of a century until she was appointed Minister of Public Health in the Afghan Interim Administration (AIA) at the 2001 Afghanistan conference in Bonn. The AIA officially came into power on 22 December that year. “General Suhaila,” as she was widely known, served in this position for four years, ie also in the subsequent Afghan Transitional Administration (2002-04), until a new cabinet was formed after the first presidential election in 2004. AAN’s Thomas Ruttig who met her several times before and after 2001 looks back at her extraordinary life.

AAN Obituary: Doctor, general, minister, trailblazer Suhaila Sediq (1938-2020)

7. AAN Obituary: Mahbuba Hoquqmal, ‘friend of the law’ (1944-2020)

Author: Thomas Ruttig

Date: 3 November 2020 

Mahbuba Hoquqmal was one of the most important legal scholars in Afghanistan. As a participant in two loya jirgas and with her working life dedicated to teaching and legal reform, she shaped the country’s constitutional history. She particularly focussed on the improvement of the legal situation of Afghan women. On 30 October 2020, she died from an illness that was triggered, according to colleagues, by a terrorist attack that killed one of her sons and his entire family. AAN co-director and senior analyst Thomas Ruttig, who worked with her at the 2002 Emergency Loya Jirga commission, looks back at her life.

AAN Obituary: Mahbuba Hoquqmal, ‘friend of the law’ (1944-2020)

8. AAN Obituary: Unfaltering women’s rights activist Soraya Parlika (1944-2019)

Author: Thomas Ruttig

Date: 15 January 2020 

Soraya Parlika, political and women’s rights activist, has died at the age of 75. She had, said Sahraa Karimi, Chair of the Afghan Film Organisation, who made a documentary about Parlika, “dedicated her life to the life of women of Afghanistan and never left her motherland even during the hard years of civil war and Taleban regime.” This earned her the respect even among many who opposed her for having been a leading member of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). AAN’s Thomas Ruttig looks back at her life.

AAN Obituary: Unfaltering women’s rights activist Soraya Parlika (1944-2019)

9. Afghan Sportswomen: Courage, hurdles and harassment

Author: Rohullah Sorush

Date: 25 November 2019 

Afghan sportswomen have become a symbol of change for many in Afghanistan, representing hope for a more egalitarian society with greater opportunities for girls and women. For others, they are a symbol of western imperialism that is bringing change and undermining Afghan society and culture, turning women away from their families and traditional roles. For a young sportswoman to succeed, she needs not only to excel in her field, but also to navigate family pressures and social taboos which do not favour women playing sport or other social activities which take them outside the home. AAN researcher Rohullah Sorush looks at the obstacles women wanting to play sport face and their courage to persist in difficult conditions.

Afghan Sportswomen: Courage, hurdles and harassment

10. What’s in a Woman’s Name? No name, no public persona

Author: Rohullah Sorush

Date: 8 March 2019 

Across Afghanistan, women are not addressed or referred to by their names in public. Even on wedding invitations and tombstones, they are typically referred to as the daughter, wife or mother of their father, husband or eldest son. Many Afghans believe naming a woman in public dishonours her. Others are arguing that a tradition that denies women their individual identity is an anachronism. To mark International Women’s Day, AAN’s Rohullah Sorush (with input from Sari Kouvo, Kate Clark and Said Reza Kazemi) has taken a look at the ways in which girls and women are referred to in Afghanistan, the more respectful, and more derogatory ways that they go unnamed and asks why women’s names are still such a sensitive issue and how that may be changing.

What’s in a Woman’s Name? No name, no public persona

11. Remembering Nancy Hatch Dupree 2: Nancy in the words of others

Author: AAN Team 

Date: 21 Oct 2017  12 min

It is 40 days since the historian, archivist and activist on behalf of Afghans, Nancy Hatch Dupree, died, aged 89. She had spent decades of her life in Afghanistan or, like many Afghans, in exile in neighbouring Pakistan. She was the author of guidebooks on Afghanistan and a publisher of books. Then, first with her husband, Louis, and, after he died in 1989, by herself, Nancy amassed the most extensive archive of documents of the last forty years. Those 100,000 documents are now housed in a special building, known as the Afghanistan Collection at Kabul University (ACKU). Last night, in London, friends and colleagues met to celebrate Nancy’s life and mark her passing. Here, we publish some of the tributes that were made that evening.

Remembering Nancy Hatch Dupree 2: Nancy in the words of others

12. Remembering Nancy Hatch Dupree 1: Nancy in her own words

Author: AAN Team

Date:  20 Oct 2017

It is 40 days since the historian, archivist and activist on behalf of Afghans, Nancy Hatch Dupree, died, aged 89. As a tribute to this remarkable woman, we are publishing two pieces. The first is an interview which Nancy gave in 2007 to Markus Hakansson for a book authored by Nancy and published by the Afghanistan Swedish Committee, which features 58 chronicles about Afghanistan. In this interview, Nancy tells how she came to Afghanistan and fell in love with the country and with her husband Louis. She describes the fifteen wonderful years they had, excavating archaeological sites and with her writing guide books. She tells of the 1978 coup, Louis’ imprisonment and there eventual exile to Pakistan where they set up a project to collect and collate information. The extract ends with her eventual return to Kabul. AAN will publish a second dispatch which will be a collection of tributes from people who knew Nancy.

Remembering Nancy Hatch Dupree 1: Nancy in her own words

13. The Bride Price: The Afghan tradition of paying for wives

Author: Fazl Rahman Muzhary  

Date: 25 October 2016

Weddings are hugely expensive affairs in Afghanistan, with excessive costs for wedding halls, lavish meals and usually a bride price. The bride price is the money paid by the groom’s family for the bride to her family. It is a contested tradition that is viewed as having no foundation in Islamic law and does not appear in the new draft marriage law. It is also not to be confused with the dowry (mahr) which should be given to the bride in case her husband dies or divorces her. High bride prices can lead to debt for grooms and their families and early marriage to unsuitable men for the daughters of poor men; fathers of many daughters, however, may benefit from the practice. AAN’s Fazal Muzhary investigates the tradition and finds that current, local attempts to curb high bride prices are proving more successful than previous attempts by the state.  

The Bride Price: The Afghan tradition of paying for wives

14. Afghan Women’s Football: The players’ passion for the game

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 26 September 2015 

This year’s Afghan women’s football tournament has kicked off with a match pitting Kabul against Bamyan, shown live on national television. Kabul proved too strong for Bamyan and won 10:0. Yet, the Bamyan players were unbowed: Kabul has many of the Afghan national team players on its side and female soccer players in Bamyan can still only play and practice inside. Today, it was the playing that was important, reports Kate Clark, as it has been every time she has been to a football match in Afghanistan.

Afghan Women’s Football: The players’ passion for the game

15. Covering for Each Other in Zanabad: The defiant widows of the hill

Author: Naheed Esar Malikzay

Date: 7 May 2015

On top of a hill in Kabul’s southeast is a unique community. It is locally known as Zanabad (“Women’s Town”) and has survived all turmoil of the last decades. A group of widows started building homes there for themselves as far back as the 1990s. Initially, the people of the neighbouring communities looked down on the women, who broke taboos by living alone and building their own village, but they have come to respect them. The story of Zanabad is a story about the challenges that Afghan widows face, but more so it is a story about women’s ability to overcome these challenges. In a country where women are usually reported on as victims, AAN’s Naheed Esar – who used to work in Zanabad as a research assistant focusing on the ethnography of everyday lives of widows and who has visited again this year – wanted to share a different story.

Covering for Each Other in Zanabad: The defiant widows of the hill

IV Violence against Women

1. Widespread Violence yet Perpetrators go Unpunished: A new UN report on violence against Afghan women

Author: Jelena Bjelica and Thomas Ruttig

Date: 29 May 2018 

Violence against women – be it murder, beatings, mutilation, child marriage, the giving away of girls in marriage to resolve disputes (baad) or other harmful practices – remains widespread throughout Afghanistan, despite the government’s efforts to criminalise such practices, the UN has found. Its new report highlights how mediation by government and traditional actors, which is widely used to resolve cases of violence against women, deprives them of access to justice and hinders their fundamental rights. AAN’s Jelena Bjelica and Thomas Ruttig summarise the report’s key findings.

Widespread Violence yet Perpetrators go Unpunished: A new UN report on violence against Afghan women

2. Harassment of Women in Afghanistan: A hidden phenomenon addressed in too many laws

Author: Ehsan Qaane

Date: 2 April 2017 

Afghan women and girls often quietly endure harassment, including sexual harassment. Speaking out brings with it the possibility of their honour being called into question, and could lead to further restrictions being placed on their lives. Over the past few years, several legal initiatives have sought to address the issue of harassment. This has led to a situation in which two of them, in particular – the more progressive Elimination of Violence against Women Law (the EVAW Law) and a more recent, narrower Anti-Harassment of Women and Children Law – have been pitted against each other. AAN’s Ehsan Qaane (with input from Sari Kouvo) unpacks these legal initiatives and looks at how the issue of harassment has become embroiled in old conflicts among Afghan women’s rights activists and between the presidency and parliament.

Harassment of Women in Afghanistan: A hidden phenomenon addressed in too many laws

3. Reality Check: No justice for women in Ghor province

Author: Salima Ahmadi

Date: 4 December 2016

Ghor province, in western Afghanistan, has been in the headlines in the past few years. Not only was the appointment of its first female provincial governor overturned, there has also been a series of extreme cases of violence against its women. In this unsettling provincial case study, AAN’s Salima Ahmadi takes a closer look at how conservative attitudes and customary practices, combined with insecurity and a failing justice system, result in an environment of near-constant violence against Afghan girls and women, where perpetrators literally get away with murder. (Written in cooperation with Ehsan Qaane and Sari Kouvo).

Reality Check: No justice for women in Ghor province

4. Police Treated With Kid Gloves: The many flaws of the Farkhunda trial

Authors: Ehsan Qaane and Kate Clark

Date: 21 May 2015

An Afghan court has found 11 policemen guilty of dereliction of duty for failing to prevent the murder of religious student Farkhunda by a mob in the centre of Kabul on 19 March 2015. They were all sentenced to one year, the absolute minimum, which means also they may not have to go to jail at all and indeed could stay working in the area of the murder. This follows earlier verdicts which sentenced four men to death and eight others to 16 year prison terms for her murder. The remaining 31 people on trial, including eight policemen, have been acquitted for lack of evidence. AAN’s Kate Clark, Ehsan Qaane (himself a lawyer) and Naheed Esar consider the trial as a whole, questioning its fairness and its failure to find out how and why the police let Farkhunda’s savage murder happen.

Police Treated With Kid Gloves: The many flaws of the Farkhunda trial

5. The Killing of Farkhunda (1): The physical environment and the social types party to her murder

Author: Fabrizio Foschini and Naheed Esar Malikzay

Date: 29 April 2015

40 days after the violent killing of Farkhunda, supporters gathered on Monday, 27 April 2015, to mourn and protest her death. Afghan public opinion has now reached a broad consensus over the unprecedented gravity of this murder. Yet, many questions remain as to what triggered the killing and how it was possible for such a terrible incident to take place in central Kabul at the hands of what looked to be otherwise law-abiding and ‘normal’ citizens. In the first of two dispatches on the murder of Farkhunda, AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini and NaheedEsar have been looking at the specifics of the social environment where she met her death and exploring some of the social types who were possibly party to her murder, from the amulet sellers and beggars, whose economic interests revolve around shrines such as that of Shah-e Du Shamshira where the murder took place, to the petty criminals and police of that part of the city, Police District (PD) 2.

The Killing of Farkhunda (1): The physical environment and the social types party to her murder

6. The Killing of Farkhunda (2): Mullahs, feminists and a gap in the debate

Author: Borhan Osman

Date: 29 April 2015 

From ultra-conservative Salafis to secular-minded feminists, an astonishingly diverse range of voices have found their heroine in Farkhunda, the young woman who was lynched by a mob in Kabul on 19 March 2015. She has become the rare victim of violence to be almost unanimously called a shahid, a martyr. The consensus on her status, however, masks a deep divergence of views on what it was that made people resort to mob justice, who is to be blamed for it and how this should be remedied. The two main and conflicting narratives that have emerged pit conservative religious leaders and groups against activists advocating for ‘rights and freedoms’, with both sides blaming each other for having indirectly driven people to murder. AAN’s Borhan Osman has delved into the debate around the underlying roots of such violent behaviour in the name of defending religion. He warns that Afghanistan cannot afford the increasingly explicit polarisation of society that has emerged since the killing.

The Killing of Farkhunda (2): Mullahs, feminists and a gap in the debate

7. Women Suffering, Women Looking for Ways Out: A photo exhibition in Barcelona

Author: Thomas Ruttig

Date: 27 January 2015 

“A woman who wants to marry the man who raped her Brides ending up mutilated after their first sexual experience. Women with university training and a career condemned to live with husbands they do not love because, if they divorce, they would lose their children.” These are captions to a moving photo exhibition in Barcelona illustrating the lives of nearly 200 Afghan women and the injustices they suffer. Spanish journalist Mònica Bernabé put it together (with photos by Spanish artist Gervasio Sánchez), telling stories she encountered running a NGO focussed on women’s rights in Afghanistan. Thomas Ruttig, who went, recommends seeing it, if not in Barcelona, then in your home town – because this exhibition can come to wherever you offer to host it.

Women Suffering, Women Looking for Ways Out: A photo exhibition in Barcelona

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