US No Help to Afghan Rape Survivors
Posted on: Monday, December 5, 2011
Two years ago, a 19-year-old Afghan woman named Gulnaz turned to the police after she was raped. For months, she had kept quiet about the attack. She was afraid of the retribution she might face for having tainted her family’s “honor.” She had already begun to show signs of the pregnancy conceived through the rape.
What happened next only worsened her trauma. She was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the crime of adultery, for having had sex outside of marriage. She was given a choice: marry her rapist or go to prison.
Recently, Gulnaz’s case has grabbed headlines. Her lawyers have mobilized a petition that gathered nearly 5,000 signatures in just a few days, demanding a pardon for Gulnaz from Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
So far, there has been some good news. Karzai has agreed to her release, but accounts differ as to whether she will still be required to marry her rapist.
Meanwhile, this case has revealed how far we still have to go when it comes to the conversation around Afghan women’s rights.
Some have taken this opportunity to remind us women of how glad we should be to live in the US. It’s a convenient story that too many like to tell themselves—that human rights violations only happen “over there.” It puts forward the falsehood that women’s rights are the property of “Western” cultures.
There is no denying that Afghan women face terrible human rights violations. Gulnaz’s case alone amply demonstrates that. Ten years after the US invasion, girls are still threatened for going to school. Women are still not free to work outside the home, choose whom they want to marry and exercise their most basic human rights without fear of violent reprisals.
But these threats cannot be attributed to some simplistic notion of Afghan culture. Culture alone explains very little, since it’s always shaped by social and political factors, like poverty, war and occupation. We shape our cultures through our words and actions, including our work to promote women’s rights. Culture helps create the context of our lives, but it can be changed—yes, even in Afghanistan. And the ones best prepared to do that are Afghan women themselves.
The fact is that few societies anywhere upheld women’s rights until women were successful in demanding those rights. The difference in Afghanistan is that, despite years of struggle, women’s rights are still not recognized. If you look only at Afghan “culture” for the explanation, you miss the fact that US militarism has contributed to the crisis of Afghan women.
First, the war has threatened the safety of Afghan women and their families routinely in the line of fire. Second, the US occupation has supported a government whose record on women’s rights includes sending rape survivors like Gulnaz to jail and passing a law allowing husbands to refuse food and shelter to wives who deny them sex. Most recently, the US-supported government shut Afghan women’s rights activists out of the Bonn Conference, a gathering of world leaders who will make a plan for the country’s future. Women had to fight tooth and nail to create even the smallest space to be heard there.
Having US soldiers in Afghanistan didn’t stop Gulnaz’s cousin’s husband from raping her. It didn’t stop her from being jailed. It won’t stop the same from happening to another woman. The hope for ending those abuses is not an occupying army but the activism of Afghan women. Women in Afghanistan have shown tremendous courage in standing up for Gulnaz, and we must support them.
When people in the US congratulate themselves for not being from Afghanistan, we put up a wall that divides Afghan women from the rest of us. We see them only as victims in need of saving.
Instead, we should see Afghan women as our partners in shared work to protect human rights, in our own communities and across the world.
By Yifat Susskind, MADRE Executive Director
Archives"Press Room" Home August 2014 July 2014 June 2014 May 2014 April 2014 March 2014 February 2014 January 2014 December 2013 November 2013 October 2013 September 2013 August 2013 July 2013 June 2013 May 2013 April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 June 2012 May 2012 April 2012 March 2012 February 2012 January 2012 December 2011 November 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 July 2011 June 2011 May 2011 April 2011 March 2011 February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 February 2009 January 2009 December 2008 November 2008 October 2008 September 2008 August 2008 July 2008 June 2008 May 2008 April 2008 March 2008 February 2008 January 2008 December 2007 November 2007 October 2007 September 2007 August 2007 June 2007 May 2007 April 2007 March 2007 February 2007 January 2007 December 2006 November 2006 October 2006 September 2006 July 2006 June 2006 April 2006 March 2006 January 2006 December 2005 November 2005 September 2005 August 2005 July 2005 April 2005 March 2005 November 2004 October 2004 April 2004 March 2004 January 2004 December 2003 October 2003 September 2003 June 2003 April 2003 January 2003 September 2002 June 2002 January 2002 November 2001 October 2001 September 2001 August 2001 January 2001
MADRE & Our Partners Make News
In Iraq, women 'are the battlefield' (Women Under Siege , August 12, 2014)
Haitian woman faces death threats for speaking out about violence against women (WBEZ Worldview, July 16, 2014)
Media Spotlight Turns Away from Iraq, as Concerns Mount Over Human Rights and Political Stalemate (Uprising Radio, July 11, 2014)
Iraq: The women left behind (Aljazeera, July 3, 2014)
Under Isis, Iraqi women again face an old nightmare: violence and repression (The Guardian, July 3, 2014)