After 15 years of war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, many women are still deprived of their fundamental rights, particularly in remote provinces.
No female prisons
In Paktika, one of the country’s poorest and most remote provinces, there are no prisons for women.
An 18-year-old woman speaking under the alias ‘Fawzia’ said she was, “treated like an animal and kept like a slave.”
She was sentenced to 18 months for adultery, and must serve her sentence in a tribal leader’s private home. She was able to speak to reporters while on leave to visit a hospital.
It is believed that thousands of other women may be suffering the same fate but without even having stood trial.
Fawzia told Reuters news agency: “God forbid that any woman be kept in an elder’s home like me and have to tolerate this harsh treatment, because there is no one here to take care of you and pay attention to your demands. I urge the government and women affairs’ department to build a prison for women here so they can serve their time in prison, not in elders’ houses.”
Forced to be unpaid servants
Cut off from their families, women are left at the mercy of the men in whose custody they are placed. They are forced to work as unpaid servants. In Paktika, the Pashtun ethnic group’s tribal rules take precedence over any other form of law.
Khalil Zadran, is a tribal elder who keeps convicted women in his house. He said he does not mistreat female prisoners and even met his current wife while she was serving time in his home. He said: “When any woman or girl commits an act that is considered a crime, the governor or police commander calls me and says ‘we don’t have any prisons for women here, so if possible, keep her at your place’. Then I provide a safe location for the women and keep them until their time is served.”
The government’s shortcomings
The government has largely failed to enforce its “Elimination of Violence Against Women” law or to curb prosecutions for ‘moral crimes’ which account for around 50% of charges against women, and often lead to prison for those fleeing domestic violence and forced marriages.
Bibi Hawa, Head of Women’s Affairs in Paktika explained: “The situation is settled in a way in which it is, once again, women who are losing. The main challenge for women in Paktika is not having a prison and a safe house upon their release”.
All women imprisoned in this way do not suffer abuse, but the potential for it is clearly very high.
What has changed?
Fawzia’s case shows how hard-earned rights won since the Taliban was toppled in 2001 have barely reached many remote regions.
Last week an EU aid conference pledged €15 billion to fund Afghanistan until 2020.
But regions like Paktika, show few visible benefits from the billions of euros already donated over the past 15 years.