- (Photo:REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)
A new report released by Human Rights Watch this week argues that despite the ousting of the Taliban, women and girls in Afghanistan continue to live in precarious conditions with hundreds of females spending years behind bars for committing "moral crimes," which sometimes include being victims of rape.
The report, "I Had to Run Away: Women and Girls Imprisoned for 'Moral Crimes' In Afghanistan," was published by Human Rights Watch on Wednesday and details the circumstances of women and girls in Afghanistan's female detention centers.
The report outlines the "crimes" that send women and girls into detention centers, often for years at a time, which include fleeing a situation of domestic violence or being the victim of rape.
"Some women and girls have been convicted of zina, sex outside of marriage, after being raped or forced into prostitution," the report reads.
Although the human rights situation has seen some improvement for women and girls in the country since the fall of the Taliban, such as increased access to education and public life, the continued wrongful imprisonment of women for fleeing violence or being raped points to a failure to adequately protect and promote women's rights in the country, according to HRW.
"It's shocking that 10 years after the overthrow of the Taliban women and girls are still imprisoned for running away from domestic violence or forced marriage," HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth said. "No one should be locked up for fleeing a dangerous situation even if it's at home."
The overall treatment of women and girls in Afghan society is troubling as the discrimination and violence that women in Afghanistan continue to endure is not only found within the domestic realm, but occurs throughout the country's legal, political, and social institutions.
From unlawful interaction with police, to biased judges who convict women based on "signed" confessions they never read, the system lacks the necessary means to protect and promote women's rights, observers say.
"The treatment of women and girls accused of 'moral crimes' is a black eye on the face of the post-Taliban Afghan government and its international backers, all of whom promised that respect for women's rights would distinguish the new government from the Taliban," the HRW report reads.
Yalda Afif, a case manager for the New York and Kabul-based Women for Afghan Women, a human rights organization that advocates and offers programmatic support to enhance the rights of women in the country, explained to The Christian Post why, in light of some positive changes, women in the country continue to face violence, discrimination, and unfair treatment.
"There are many reasons why this kind of violence is happening – but in Afghanistan it is more about cultural reasons," Afif told the Christian Post in a recent interview.
"The situation is getting worse than before. You see violence is happening more and more every day," the caseworker said. "But there is only one reason that the violence persists and that is because it is hard to bring people out of that culture."
It has been the decades of protracted conflict and foreign intervention that have made many Afghans skeptical of changes that they believe might Americanize their culture, or even go against their faith, according to Afif.
However, Women for Afghan Women is working with Islamic leaders, or Imams, in communities to teach that violence and the mistreatment of women is a cultural trait not based on religion, but rather related to years of instability and violence.
"The Imams are educating and teaching them the real Islam and telling them if you want to follow your God you shouldn't do this. If you are a good Muslim you wouldn't do that," Afif said.
Although Afif shared that the organization has "seen a lot of changes" through the work of Imams to break the barriers of a hardened culture and teach a new set of social norms and attitudes toward women, an increasingly un-invested and fleeting international community challenges the future of rights for women and girls in the country.
"If the U.S. leaves, the situation (for women) will get worse, " Afif said. "If the U.S. is out, the Taliban will come out and take over all of Afghanistan and the situation will only get worse for women."