Afghanistan's jailed women

Zeina Khodr looks at how Afghanistan's women still face discrimination and abuse.

by

    Many jailed women say they ran away to
    escape abuse

    When the Taliban were in power, Afghan women were denied many basic human rights. They were not allowed to work, needed a male escort if they wanted to leave the house and were forbidden from consulting a male doctor.

    The recently adopted Afghan constitution says men and women have equal rights but, as Zeina Khodr reports, this is far from the case.

    For the women in Kabul's Pol-i-Charki prison, their only crime is running away from an abusive husband, or committing adultery.

    But in Afghanistan, it is enough to keep a woman behind bars.

    Massouda Hashimin, a 30-year-old mother of seven, told Al Jazeera she ran away because she was desperate.

    "My husband was not a good person. He brought women home and he drank alcohol," she said.

    "He took me to the police and the police told me that the allegation against me was kidnapping the children and moral crimes."

    'Moral crimes'

    "Moral crimes" means simply defying their family's wishes. Most of the women in the prison have been locked up, accused of adultery or of marrying a man of their own choosing.

    Ashraf's organisation is one of the few
    offering Afghan women help
    It means their children are disgraced and some end up in prison with their mothers, because there is no one willing to look after them.

    "These women are criminals according to the law, but not their children," said Colonel Shirshah, a prison guard.

    "These children range from babies to 12-year olds. The prison environment is not good for them."

    Still, some women see prison as a better alternative to their lives. They are protected from family members who would kill them for making their own choices.

    At least in the prison, they are safe for now.

    "What happens in prison [is that] she loses her credibility within her family and there is no one to support her," says Orzala Ashraf, founder of Hawca (Humanitarian Assistance for Women and Children).

    "That woman is always at risk from her family - they are the ones who forced her from her home."

    This is why Ashraf's organisation has set up a few safe houses to help these victims of domestic violence.

    Lives of despair

    But there is only so much she can do. There are not enough shelters and many women are left to fend for themselves.

    This young girl was married off to pay
    her father's gambling debt
    There are some laws and practices that condemn Afghan girls to lives of despair. Many of Afghanistan's girls are likely to be forced into marriage at a very young age and most of the time to much older men.

    Families chose this option for many reasons – to settle disputes, for example, or even to pay off debts.

    That is the story of one 13-year old Afghan girl whose father handed her over to repay a gambling debt.

    He owed $5,000 to a 50-year old Kabul man named Mohammed Assef. Mohammed says he is not sure if she is happy about the marriage, but that it is not up to her.

    As for the young girl herself, she is too traumatised to speak, or even give her name.

    One third of Afghan women get married before the age of 18. Of these, more than half involve girls below the legal age of 16. Around 60 to 80 per cent of them are forced.

    The doors to better lives have still not swung open for many Afghan girls. They are still not free, and it may be a long way before they will be able to choose their own paths.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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