Domestic violence on the rise in Afghanistan
Drug abuse, unemployment and impunity contribute to abuse against Afghan women.
Kabul, Afghanistan – Nasima always knew trouble surrounded her daughter’s marriage.
The signs of a strained and violent relationship were apparent, but it wasn’t until her phone rang on the morning of December 13 that Nasima understood the degree to which Setara, her daughter, had been suffering.
The voice on the other end of the phone was Setara’s neighbours in Injil district, only a few kilometres from Herat City.
“Your son-in-law beat your daughter, come to the hospital.”
When Nasima and her son, Mir Agha, arrived at Herat’s central hospital they saw her daughter’s face bruised, battered and her arms were covered in white bandages.
The perpetrator, her husband and a drug addict, had told Setara to hand over her jewelry so he could feed his decades-long addiction to heroin. When she refused, he dragged the 33-year-old woman to another room where he proceeded to beat her with a stone.
But he didn’t stop there. When she was in and out of consciousness, Setara’s husband took out a knife and stabbed her repeatedly before cutting off her nose and lips.
Hearing the commotion, the couple’s four children rushed to surround their mother.
“As a man, I never thought he would do this to me. I always did good things for him, I never imagined he would try to kill me,” Setara told Al Jazeera.
Domestic violence widespread
According to a recent UN report, which cited a 28 percent increase in violence against Afghan women, Setara’s case is not rare in the Central Asian nation.
This was the third incident in a 48 hour period. Soon after the news broke, everyone from Sayed Faziullah Wadidi, the governor of the Western province – to Abdullah Abdullah, a presidential candidate and the ministries of interior and drug control were issuing statements about the case.
Though the reports of violence against women have increased, Setara’s case is unique for its international attention and combination of drug use and spousal abuse.
When someone is an addict, they have no control. They're dangerous.
Like many of the estimated 70,000 drug addicts in Herat, Setara’s husband was introduced to drugs while residing in neighbouring Iran.
Laila Haidari, who runs a drug treatment centre in Kabul, said 90 percent of the addicts she treats first picked up the habit in the Islamic Republic.
Haidari said all of the addicts she treats at the Mother’s Camp in the Dasht-e Barchi neighbourhood of the Afghan capital turned violent at some point.
“When someone is an addict, they have no control. They’re dangerous. He could have easily killed his whole family,” Haidari told Al Jazeera.
Zarghuna Ahmadzai, a Kabul-based psychologist who has treated dozens of abused women like Setara told Al Jazeera that addicts, “lose sight of everything. Nothing, not even their families hold value to them”.
Still, women’s rights activists say Setara’s husband’s addiction should not serve as an excuse for the “horrifying” case.
“Her husband’s addiction of course plays a role, but in my view it’s secondary,” Orzala Ashraf Nemat, a women’s rights activist who helped pass Afghanistan’s 2009 Elimination of Violence Against Women law said.
The primary reason, according to Nemat, is impunity.
According to a December UN report, of the 650 reported incidences of violence against women and girls across 18 provinces between October 2012 and September 2013, the Elimination of Violence Against Women law was only applied in 109 cases.
“When a man feels he is above the law, or in the worst case he will bribe his way out of prison, then he allows himself to act however he sees fit.”
Nassima, sitting by her daughter’s bedside, agrees.
“If I knew this was what she faced, I would have killed him with my own hands.”
When Setara’s husband, who fled the scene before police arrived, is caught, Setara said she wants him to be brought to justice.
“The government should arrest this man and stone him to death. He stabbed me in my hands and my chest, he cut my nose, my lips. I want the government to punish him in the most severe manner possible.”
“I have never done anything wrong to him in his entire life,” Setara told Al Jazeera.
A nationwide effort by the Ministry of Interior and the National Directorate of Security (NDS) – Afghanistan’s spy agency – is under way to find Setara’s husband.
If he is still high, the jail time is unlikely to have much of an impact.
But Ahmadzai, the psychologist who has treated dozens of women abused by their addicted husbands or sons, said NDS must seek advice on how to properly treat the trauma faced by Setara’s family.
“If he is still high, the jail time is unlikely to have much of an impact”, Ahmadzai said. The entire family is in need of psychological care, she said.
Wadidi, the Herat governor, agrees.
“Herat is a cultural and historic province – these things should no longer happen here. Doctors have to run tests to see if he is healthy or not; no healthy person would do such a thing.”
At a civil society meeting in Kabul, which included representatives from the Afghan human rights commission and women’s rights activists, many people said investigations into Setara’s case must explore what led her husband to commit such an act.
Alka Sadat, a female documentarian from Herat, said Setara’s case is indicative of a startling increase in violence against women even in provinces that are often thought to be among the Afghanistan’s safest.
Sadat said women actually are more prone to domestic abuse in peaceful areas, where the pressures of the nation’s double digit unemployment rate are more easily felt.