Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Afghanistan - Bacha Posh

When Azita Rafhat, a former member of the Afghan parliament, gets her daughters ready for school, she dresses one of the girls differently.

Three of her daughters are clothed in white garments and their heads covered with white scarves, but a fourth girl, Mehrnoush, is dressed in a suit and tie. When they get outside, Mehrnoush is no longer a girl but a boy named Mehran.

Azita Rafhat didn't have a son, and to fill the gap and avoid people's taunts for not having a son, she opted for this radical decision. It was very simple, thanks to a haircut and some boyish clothes.

There is even a name for this tradition in Afghanistan - Bacha Posh, or disguising girls as boys.

In a report, it said that women were punished for fleeing domestic abuse and violence while some rape victims were also imprisoned.

Sex outside marriage - even when the woman is forced - is considered adultery, another "moral crime".

The I Had to Run Away report was released in Kabul on Wednesday.

The report said that the government of President Hamid Karzai had failed to fulfil its obligations under international human rights laws.

"It is 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.

The report called on the government to release about 400 women and girls held in jails or juvenile detention centres.

"Some women and girls have been convicted of mina, sex outside of marriage, after being raped or forced into prostitution," it said.

"Judges often convict solely on the basis of 'confessions' given in the absence of lawyers and 'signed' without having been read to women who cannot read or write.

"After conviction, women routinely face long prison sentences, in some cases more than 10 years."

It said that the situation had been made worse by Mr Karzai frequently changing his position on women's rights.

"Unwilling or unable to take a consistent line against conservative forces within the country, he has often made compromises that have negatively impacted women's rights."

Earlier this month the president endorsed a "code of conduct" issued by an influential council of clerics which allows husbands to beat wives under certain circumstances.

The BBC's Emily Buchanan says that the lack of women's rights under the Taliban helped to justify Western military intervention in Afghanistan in 2001.

Our correspondent says that since then there has been much progress on girls access to education and participation in public life.

Many activists fear that hard-won rights are increasingly being undermined as the government tries to woo conservative religious forces.

A woman in north-eastern Afghanistan has been arrested for allegedly strangling her daughter-in-law for giving birth to a third daughter.

The murdered woman's husband, a member of a local militia, is also suspected of involvement but he has since fled.

The murder took place two days ago in Kunduz province. The baby girl, who is now two months old, was not hurt.

The birth of a boy is usually a cause for celebration in Afghanistan but girls are generally seen as a burden.

Some women in Afghanistan are abused if they fail to give birth to boys. And this is just the latest in a series of high-profile crimes against women in the country.

Late last year a horrifying video emerged of the injuries suffered by a 15-year-old child bride who was locked up and tortured by her husband.
'Crime against humanity'

This murder took place in the village of Mahfalay, in the district of Khanabad in Kunduz.

Khanabad's police chief, Sufi Habib, told the BBC that "the mother gave birth to a third girl two months ago. The husband and mother-in-law strangled her for giving birth to a third daughter".

Senior officials told the BBC that the mother-in-law, known as Wali Hazrata, tied the feet of the 22-year old woman, who was known as Stori, while Stori's husband strangled her.

He is thought to be a fighter with an illegal armed militia which is believed to have some political support. Local villagers say that Stori often urged her husband to lay down his arms.

"She lived in a hell not a house. But then she also asked her husband to stay home and avoid going out with these thugs," one neighbour who wished to remain anonymous told the BBC.

While militia groups have some political support, they have often been accused of violence against women, robberies and extortion.

Afghan women's rights activists brought this case to the attention of the media.

The Director for Kunduz Women's affairs, Nadira Gya, condemned the incident saying: "it was a brutal crime committed against an innocent woman".

Local religious and tribal elders in the district also condemned the killing, saying it was an act of ignorance, and calling it a crime against Islam, humanity and women.

They called for immediate punishment. Wali Hazrata appears to have made no public comment as yet.

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