Public space “shrinking” for women in Afghanistan say UN official

Eight years after the formal end of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, women are facing growing challenges in public life and have limited access to justice, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

“The space for women in public life is shrinking,” warned Norah Niland, head of UNAMA’s human rights unit and a representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Under the Taliban, women had few rights, and though efforts have been made since then to boost them, progress has been inhibited by armed conflict, weak political commitment, corruption, and strong patriarchal traditions. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) is concerned that initial gains made after 2001 are being lost.

The number of women working in the government is “steadily decreasing” and their participation in other decision-making processes such as voting in elections has also gone down, according to the UNAMA.

Compared to 2005 fewer women participated in this year’s elections and there is only one cabinet minister now (the minister of women’s affairs) compared to three in 2003-2005.

“It is unrealistic to anticipate significant socio-economic progress when half the population is denied, or unable to participate in, poverty reduction, reconstruction or development projects,” said Niland, adding that the space for advocacy campaigns for women’s rights had also diminished in recent years.

UNAMA says gender-based violence is still widespread and deeply rooted in society.

Women face physical and mental abuse in their own homes but have little or no access to justice, according to rights watchdogs.

Over 1,000 cases of violence against women were recorded in the Violence Against Women Primary Database (maintained by the government and women’s rights groups in 21 of the country’s 34 provinces from March 2006 to October 2007). Incidents recorded included rape, forced prostitution, forced marriage, physical attack, polygamy and harassment.

“Some women are even sold and exchanged as commodities,” said Zia Moballegh, acting country director for the International Center for Human Rights and Democratic Development, a Canadian organization.

“Violence against women thrives in socio-economic conditions that see women as inferior and, somehow, less entitled to the full respect of their human rights,” said UNAMA’s Niland.

“Impunity is one of the biggest problems in Afghanistan from a rule of law and human rights perspective,” Niland told IRIN.

Afghan courts and police are considered corrupt, male-dominated and incompetent by many women who have suffered violence, according to rights groups.

Some victims of gender-based violence who lack access to justice and support turn to self-harm, elopement and/or other extreme actions, according to the above-mentioned database.

Afghan women have one of the lowest literacy rates in the world: UNAMA says 90 percent of women in rural areas cannot read or write and the overall literacy rate among women is 12.6 percent.

http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/IRIN/f6a4fb757093553fd8b94835b6face5e.htm

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