By Sanchita Bhattacharya*
On May 11, 2019, Mena Mangal, a former journalist and a cultural advisor to the Wolesi Jirga, the Lower House of Parliament, was killed in the Kart-e-Naw area of Kabul. Mangal had worked as a news presenter for three local TV networks in Kabul, including LEMAR TV, Shamshad News, and Ariana TV.
Earlier on May 8, 2019, the Taliban, launched an attack on the head office of US-funded aid group Counterpart International in the Shahr-e-Naw area of Kabul city, citing the “intermixing” of women and men working at the site and its promotion of “western activities”. At least nine people were killed (including five members of the Afghan Security Forces) and 20 were wounded in a siege that lasted more than seven hours. An Afghan woman who has worked at Counterpart for more than three years, speaking on condition of anonymity, stated, “The Taliban want to kill women who work with men. If I die, there will be no one to feed my parents and siblings.”
Mangal’s killing is just the latest in a number of slayings of Afghan women over the past 18 years, since the toppling of Taliban regime. Most Afghan men in this traditionally conservative society still hold the view that women are inferior and have no right to freedom. Some of the women have been killed in so-called ‘honour’ killings carried out by their own families; others have been killed by terrorist groups that object to women in public roles and who speak about women’s rights.
On April 18, 2019, a woman, along with her husband, was killed by the Taliban in the Ozan Saqaal area of Gosfandi District in Sar-e-Pul Province. Military sources stated that that the circumstances surrounding the killing of the couple have not been ascertained.
On October 24, 2018, the Taliban killed a woman and her child for running away from home in the Shahrak District of Ghor Province.
On March 19, 2018, a woman was beheaded by Taliban terrorists in the Baharak District of Badakhshan Province. The motive behind the killing was not known.
According to the latest UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) report on women’s rights, jointly prepared with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), titled, “Injustice and Impunity: Mediation of Criminal Offences of Violence against Women”, published in May, 2018, 237 cases of violence against women were reported in 22 Afghan provinces monitored by UNAMA between August 2015 and December 2017, and another 280 cases of murder and honour killings were also documented by the UN mission. This is the sixth UNAMA report on violence against women since 2009, when the UN mission in Afghanistan began monitoring the implementation of the law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW).
Further, as reported in December 2018, Afghanistan ranked second among the worst places in the world to be a woman. The report quoted a project of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which conducted a poll on the world’s worst places to be a woman. According to the poll, Afghanistan is ranked second, with India at rank 1, Syria at 3, Somalia at 4 and Saudi Arabia at 5. Women in today’s Afghanistan face a host of daily threats in the form of insurgency violence, honour killing, stoning to death, beatings, rape, giving away of girls in marriage to resolve disputes, enforced prostitution, burning or using chemical substances to deface, and forced immolation or suicide, mostly in the name of religion and tribal customs.
Three decades of war and devastation has ruined the social fabric of the entire nation. The deep-rooted social conditioning of women has forced them to stay away from the political, social and economic mainstream of the country for a considerable period of time. Even after the ouster of the Taliban, most women still live in fear and suffer under a veil of silence, as violence is meted out by family members and conservative groups.
The factors contributing to this violence include the failure to deal decisively with perpetrators; a culture of impunity; perceptions that violence against women is ‘normal’; illiteracy and low levels of public awareness; traditional patterns of marriage; corruption and abuse of state positions; women’s limited access to justice; the lack of security; and weakness of state authority in the districts and provinces.
Nevertheless, there have been some visible gains for women. The maternal mortality rate in Afghanistan reduced from 1,340 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 396 in 2015, (according to World Bank data). Also, in contrast to the strict Taliban years, when women were banned from work, made to wear a full-length burqa that covered their face and not allowed out without a male relative, a March, 2019 report, states that women in Afghanistan now constitute 27 per cent each in Parliament and in the civil service.
Talks between the Taliban and the US are a serious source of concern for Women’s rights activists, with many worried that a deal between the two sides could erode the hard-won freedoms and rights of Afghan women and girls in exchange for peace. Kabul-based women’s rights activist Maqadasa Atalwali observed, “We need to keep up the fight and be prepared for what may come to Afghanistan in the near future.”
The Taliban, who have disruptive influence in nearly half of Afghanistan, are seeking to impose their harsh interpretation of Islam in areas they control. Unsurprisingly, the US military has stopped disclosing estimates of how much of Afghanistan is controlled by the Taliban (as well as fatalities in various categories, including civilians).The decision to end these assessments, which have been produced in various forms since 2010, was published in the latest quarterly report by the American Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). According to the SIGAR, Quarterly Report, published on April 30, 2019:
This quarter, the U.S.-commanded NATO Resolute Support (RS) mission in Afghanistan formally notified SIGAR that it is no longer assessing district-level insurgent or government control or influence. The RS mission said the district-level stability assessments were “of limited decision-making value to the [RS] Commander…. According to the NATO RS mission, control of Afghanistan’s districts, population, and territory has become more contested over the last two years, resulting in a stalemated battlefield environment between the ANDSF and the insurgency.
The plight of women (who constitute 48.52 per cent of the total population of 37,209,007) in Afghanistan has been pulled into focus in recent months, as many in the war-torn country worry that the limited rights available to women will be lost if the United States makes a deal with the Taliban. US negotiations with the Taliban are dangerous for the already deteriorating situation, particularly for women in the country. Since the commencement of peace talks between the US and the Taliban, there has been extremely limited participation and involvement of women, and the future of women in Afghanistan is falling further into darkness.
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management