Afghan women activists face rising violence, Amnesty says

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan women activists who are working to improve the human rights situation in their country face increased violence, including threats, sexual assault and assassinations, Amnesty International said Tuesday.

The London-based watchdog criticized Afghan authorities in a new report released in Kabul, saying that both the Afghan government and the international community have abandoned the women activists despite the gains made in the past decade.

Based on interviews with more than 50 women rights defenders and their relatives across the country, Amnesty said it found that Afghan authorities consistently ignored or refused to act on threats against women.

“The lack of protection is simply shocking,” Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary general, told reporters. He said that out of the 50 cases Amnesty examined, in only one instance was an arrest made. In all the other cases, complaints were neglected or ignored by officials.

The report’s release comes as Afghanistan is examining traditional attitudes on women following some high profile cases of abuse and violence.

In late March, a 27-year-old woman was beaten to death by a mob in downtown Kabul, while a crowd watched and filmed the attack. Eyewitnesses have said that police failed to prevent the attack and in some cases participated.

The woman, known as Farkhunda, had been falsely accused of burning a Quran, according to government investigators. Her killing has been widely condemned, and many activists believe it could become the pivot on which Afghanistan’s culture of impunity for abuse of women turns.

While Shetty said that many attacks on women human rights activists were by religious extremists like the Taliban and other conservative forces, government officials, local commanders and even male colleagues of women had also been involved in violence against them.

Despite legal protections, Amnesty says that Afghan women rights workers who do report violence or attacks are put at further risk simply for speaking out.

Afghanistan has regularly been named as one of the worst places in the world to be born female.

Hasina Safi, head of the Afghan Women’s Network, a non-government organization working with women to raise their awareness of their rights, said that outside main Afghan cities, women who work outside their homes face daily threats of being killed or kidnapped — simply because they dare work.

“Of course we are concerned as women, as members of society who want to work and remain in Afghanistan,” she said.

In the years since the 1996-2001 Taliban regime, great strides have been made in Afghan women’s education and health, but they are still generally regarded as inferior to men, and treated as such. Girls are married off to older men, sold to pay debts and barred from leaving their marital homes, often even if they just want to seek medical care.

Hundreds of billions of dollars have funded programs aimed at improving women’s lives, yet constitutional rights still go largely ignored. President Ashraf Ghani, who took office in September, has pledged to ensure that women’s rights are respected.

Amnesty’s report also urged the Afghan government to ensure that all allegations of threats or attacks against women rights activists are fully and impartially investigated and perpetrators held to account.

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