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Taliban gone, but problems for Afghan women abound

According to Reuters, local police and security forces in Afghanistan are guilty of rampant violence against women, even while the international community is expressing its trust in the post-Taliban regime by pulling troops out of the country by the end of 2014.

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission is claiming that almost 15 percent of total national honor killings and sexual assaults were committed by officers of the law, citing two years of data, and noting that endemic under-reporting may mean that the actual numbers are far higher.

But that is not the only way in which Afghan women have recently been victimized by the justice system. Also in the last two years, increasing numbers of Afghan women have been imprisoned for so-called “moral crimes,” with incarcerated females increasing by 50 percent, according to Human Rights Watch. It is the highest number of female incarcerations for moral crimes since the days of the Taliban.

Moreover, women in Afghanistan’s National Assembly are actually receiving very public threats from their male colleagues in government. “Parliament is not a place for women,” female Member of Parliament Shukria Barakzai reports one of her cohorts in the legislature as saying to her a few days ago.

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, a new age for women in Afghanistan has been heralded—at least, an age more similar to the liberalism found when the communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan ruled the nation in the 1980s and the monarchy before then. However, in recent months, the gains made by the internationally backed regime of Hamid Karzai have seemed to falter, if not to the abysmal depths seen in the 1990s, certainly to a level lower than in the mid-2000s.

All of this—the police violence against women, female incarceration for moral crimes, and threats against female MPs—suggests that religious conservatives within Afghanistan’s government, police forces, and general population are growing bolder as the deadline for final NATO and United States troop withdrawal approaches.

In 2009, Karzai signed into law the Elimination of Violence Against Women act, which was to criminalize 22 acts of violence against women, including relationship rape and child marriage. This law would act as a safeguard against backsliding into old anti-women tendencies once the international community departed from the country. But last month, conservative members of Afghanistan’s National Assembly challenged the EVAW law’s adherence to tenants of Islamic law, and refused to ratify it.

Some blame one female MP in particular, Fawzia Koofi, for the political deadlock over the EVAW debacle. A presidential aspirant, Koofi has been accused by activists and other politicians of wanting EVAW to be passed at the cost of other women’s rights acts, according to Al Jazeera.

But the combination of what is happening within the halls of the National Assembly with what is happening on the streets and in the penal system indicates that EVAW’s failure cannot be blamed on Koofi, but is a symptom of increasingly widespread discrimination and abuses towards women in Afghanistan. Women are being abused and unjustly incarcerated at higher rates than any since the fall of the Taliban, and the laws that might stop these abuses are being stalled.

By Laura Gates

Sources: Huffington Post, Reuters, Associated Press, Christian Science Monitor, Al Jazeera

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