Domestic and international gender experts considered the country very dangerous for women.
Rape and Domestic Violence: The EVAW law, which was put into effect by presidential decree in 2009, criminalizes violence against women, including rape, battery, or beating; forced marriage; humiliation; intimidation; and deprivation of inheritance; however, its implementation remained limited. The law provides for a sentence of 16 to 20 years in prison for rape. If the act results in the death of the victim, the law provides for the death sentence for the perpetrator. The law provides for imprisonment of up to seven years for the “violation of chastity of a woman…that does not result in adultery (such as sexual touching).” Under the law rape does not include spousal rape. The law was not widely understood, and some in the public and the religious communities deemed the law un-Islamic. Many authorities lacked the political will to implement the law and failed to enforce it fully and successfully.
During the year the AIHRC released a report noting 92 cases of honor killings from March 2014 to March 2015, down 13 percent from the same period a year earlier. According to a separate AIHRC report, National Inquiry on Rape and Honor Killing, almost 50 percent of honor killings were committed because of suspected zina (extramarital sexual relations). The same report found 67 percent of perpetrators of rape and honor killing were arrested, and 60 percent were tried and ultimately punished.
In 2013 a female parliamentarian sought parliamentary approval of EVAW, to reinforce of women’s rights. This was not technically necessary, since the presidential decree that brought it into force had the same legal power as a law passed through parliament. The parliamentary introduction inadvertently prompted the conservative male majority to argue against the law by saying the protections for women were un-Islamic. The speaker prevented the law from being repealed or weakened by promptly ending debate and forwarding the legislation to a parliamentary committee, where it remained as of October. The AIHRC, justice implementers, and civil society continued to try to increase awareness of the law, despite the controversy. Some supporters of women’s rights believed revisions and improvements to the EVAW law were needed, while others focused primarily on implementation and enforcement. A 2010 presidential decree requires the criminal provisions of the EVAW law to be incorporated in the country’s forthcoming consolidated penal code, which remained under development. Several women’s rights groups advocated throughout the year to keep the EVAW law separate from the penal code due to concern that conservative elements might seek to weaken the law during the parliamentary process.
The Attorney General’s Office established the first specialized EVAW prosecution unit in Kabul in 2010 and continued to expand the number of EVAW units until, as of September, EVAW units were operational in 20 provinces. In other provinces the Attorney General’s Office assigned prosecutors to handle cases of violence against women on at least a part-time basis. In March the Attorney General’s Office held its first national meeting of EVAW prosecutors to facilitate communication between different provincial EVAW units and identify common issues. An April UNAMA report documenting the individual experiences of 110 women seeking justice through the judicial system observed that although their effectiveness varied widely, the units were a contributing factor towards encouraging women who experienced violence to pursue their cases. Similarly, a 2013 UN report found provinces with dedicated EVAW units tried and convicted more cases than those without an EVAW unit.
From March 2013 to March 2014, the government reported 5,406 registered cases of violence against women, with 3,715 registered under the EVAW law. A significant number of complaints brought under the EVAW law were resolved through family mediation. In its April survey on justice for women, UNAMA noted 65 percent of sample cases of violence against women were resolved through mediation. Following a visit in November 2014, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women stated that women perceived the formal justice system as inaccessible and corrupt, especially on issues related to women’s rights, and therefore they frequently opted for mediation. Of the cases evaluated by UNAMA, more than half were registered by provincial Departments of Women’s Affairs and police. The remainder were registered by NGOs, human rights organizations, and prosecutors’ offices.
Prosecutors and judges in some remote provinces were unaware of the EVAW law, and others were subject to community pressure to release defendants due to familial loyalties, threat of harm, or bribes. Reports indicated men accused of rape often claimed the victim agreed to consensual sex, leading to zina charges against the victim, or made false claims of marriage to the victim. For example, in February a court in Kabul suspended proceedings against a man accused of repeatedly raping his daughter over a 12-year period and contemplated charges against the victim after the man accused her of having extramarital relationships with other men. The man was later convicted and sentenced to death, the most severe sentence ever handed down under the EVAW law, when DNA evidence proved he had fathered his daughter’s two children.
Rapes were difficult to document due to social stigma. Male victims seldom came forward due to fear of retribution or additional exploitation by authorities, but peer sexual abuse was reportedly common. Female victims faced stringent societal reprisal, ranging from being deemed unfit for marriage to being imprisoned or a victim of extrajudicial killing.
According to the Asia Foundation’s Annual Survey of the Afghan People, 23.4 percent of women surveyed knew of an organization, institution, or authority in their area where women could go to have their problems resolved. Forced virginity testing remains legal, and police, prosecutors, and judges frequently ordered virginity tests in cases where women or girls were accused of “moral crimes” such as zina. Women who sought assistance in case of rape often became subjects of virginity tests and in some instances had their cases converted into adultery cases. Interpretations of sharia also impeded successful prosecution of rape cases.
In February media reported a group of armed kidnappers in Takhar Province held a 14-year-old married girl captive and gang-raped her before killing her. Local police arrested two suspects in connection with the crime. Also in Takhar Province in March, media reported a 13-year-old girl told authorities she was eight months’ pregnant following an alleged rape by a local mullah, who threatened to kill the girl’s family if she reported the crime. In March media reports indicated the mullah was arrested and confessed to raping the girl.
The penal code criminalizes assault, and courts convicted domestic abusers under this provision. According to NGO reports, hundreds of thousands of women continued to suffer abuse at the hands of their husbands, fathers, brothers, in-laws, armed individuals, parallel legal systems, and institutions of state, such as the police and justice systems. The AIHRC’s 2013 national inquiry on rape and honor killing noted murders, assaults, and sexual violence against women commonly involved family members as suspects.
Police response to domestic violence was limited, in part due to low reporting, sympathy toward perpetrators, and limited protection for victims. Some police and judicial officials were unaware or unconvinced that rape was a serious criminal offense, and investigating rape cases was generally not a priority. Even in instances in which justice officials took rape seriously, some cases reportedly did not proceed due to bribery, family or tribal pressure, or other interference during the process. The AIHRC’s 2013 report on rape and honor killing asserted only 64 percent of cases referred to the justice sector were prosecuted or adjudicated correctly. The AIHRC and NGOs contended that due to societal acceptance of the practice, most cases were unreported d and never reached prosecutors.
According to the AIHRC, more than 4,250 cases of violence against women were reported during the first nine months of the Afghan calendar year ending March 2015. The AIHRC noted that the majority of reports concerned physical violence and expressed concern over an apparent rise in cases of sexual violence including rape. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs also reported that incidents of violence against women were increasing. During the first six months of the year, 815 incidents of violence against women were reported, compared with 764 incidents during the same period in the previous year. Accurate statistics on the extent of violence against women were difficult to obtain.
Most women did not seek legal assistance for domestic or sexual abuse because they did not know their rights or because they feared prosecution or return to their family or the perpetrator. Women sometimes practiced self-immolation, and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs reported there continued to be cases of suicide as a result of domestic violence. The Ministry of Public Health reported more than 9,000 suicide attempts, more than half of which were by self-immolation, between March 2014 and June 2015; the majority of victims were women. Women increasingly turned to NGO-run shelters for assistance, and according to UNAMA’s April report on women’s access to justice, they particularly valued the physical protection afforded by shelters, which often represented the only safe refuge for women. According to NGOs that ran women’s shelters countrywide, police continued to make up the most significant source of referrals, likely reflecting improved ANP training and awareness. Space at the 28 formal shelters across the country was sometimes insufficient, and shelters remained concentrated in the western, northern, and central regions of the country. Women who could not be reunited with their families or were unmarried were compelled to remain in shelters indefinitely, because “unaccompanied” women were not commonly accepted in society. The difficulty of finding durable solutions for women compelled to stay in shelters was compounded by societal attitudes toward shelters, the belief that “running away from home” was a serious violation of social mores, and the continued victimization of women who were raped but perceived by society as adulterers.
Women in need of shelter but who could not find it often ended up in prison, either due to a lack of shelter alternatives, for their own protection, or based on local interpretation of “running away” as a moral crime. Adultery, fornication, and kidnapping are crimes under the law. Women often were convicted of those crimes in situations of abuse, rape, or forced marriage, or on the basis of invalid evidence, including flawed virginity tests. Running away is not a crime under the law, but women and girls continued to be detained for running away from home or “attempted zina.” As of July 31, approximately 51 percent of female prisoners were incarcerated for moral crimes, according to GDPDC records, a decrease from 58 percent in 2014 and 80.5 percent in 2013.
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, as well as nongovernmental entities, sometimes arranged marriages for women who could not return to their families.
Police units charged with addressing violence against women, children, and families, included female officers. Although trained to help victims of domestic violence, the officers were hindered by instructions to wait for victims to take the initiative and reach out to them. Women serving in civilian and ANP positions in the Ministry of Interior offered mediation and resources to prevent future domestic violence.
In June the government launched its National Action Plan to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The EVAW law criminalizes forced, underage, and “bad” marriages (the practice of settling disputes in which the culprit’s family trades a girl to the victim’s family to settle a dispute), and interference with a woman’s right to choose her spouse. According to the United Nations and Human Rights Watch, an estimated 70 percent of marriages were forced. Despite laws banning the practice, many brides continued to be younger than the legal marriage age of 16 (or 15 with a guardian’s and a court’s approval). A 2014 AIHRC survey found more than 7 percent of respondents reported their daughters were married before the age of 16. Very few marriages were registered, leaving forced marriages outside legal control. There were reports women who sought assistance under the EVAW law in cases of forced marriage or rape became subjects of virginity tests.
Local officials occasionally imprisoned women at the request of family members for opposing the family’s choice of a marriage partner or on charges of zina or bigamy. There were also reports local officials imprisoned women in place of a family member who had committed a crime but could not be located. Some women remained in detention facilities because they had run away from home to escape domestic violence or the prospect of forced marriage.
The AIHRC released its national inquiry on rape and honor killing in 2013, after a multiyear investigation. According to the AIHRC, between March 2011 and April 2013 it recorded 406 reported cases of honor killing and sexual assault. A much larger number was believed to be unreported and to include cases of suicide and self-immolation. Under the penal code, a man convicted of honor killing after finding his wife committing adultery cannot be sentenced to more than two years’ imprisonment. During the year honor killings continued, although accurate statistics were difficult to obtain. In August media reported a man in Parwan Province shot his three sisters, killing one and wounding two, reportedly for attending a wedding party without permission. In another case a woman in Takhar Province reported to the AIHRC that her daughter was killed by her daughter’s father-in-law, mother-in-law, and husband. The husband reportedly fled to Iran, and the father-in-law was reportedly detained and later released, despite two petitions by the victim’s mother to the Takhar Court of Appeals.
In March a crowd of dozens of men killed 27-year-old Farkhunda Malikzada outside a Kabul mosque reportedly after an amulet seller falsely accused her of burning a Quran. The mob beat her, dragged her behind a car, and set her body on fire while nearby police failed to intervene. The incident spurred large-scale public protests in Kabul by civil society and women’s rights activists. A Kabul court sentenced four men to death for the murder, but the appeals court later reduced the sentences to prison terms of 10 to 20 years. A legal panel appointed by President Ghani conducted an investigation and found legal discrepancies starting from the investigation through the sentencing and appellate proceedings and recommended a retrial. Prosecutors referred the case to the Supreme Court for a review of the appellate court’s decision.
There were reports of summary justice by the Taliban and other antigovernment elements that resulted in extrajudicial executions. In September the Taliban stoned to death a man and woman in Sar-e Pul Province for alleged adultery.
Sexual Harassment: The EVAW law criminalizes harassment and persecution of women but does not define these terms. In September President Ghani signed the first sexual harassment regulation, defining harassment against women and establishing and identifying mechanisms for complaint and redress. A Regulation on Prohibition of Women’s Sexual Harassment entered into effect on October 3, when it was published in the official gazette. Women who walked outside alone or went to work often experienced abuse or harassment, including groping, or were followed on the streets in urban areas. Women who took on public roles that challenged gender stereotypes (such as lawmakers, political leaders, NGO leaders, police officers, and news broadcasters) continued to be intimidated by conservative elements and received death threats directed at them or their families. NGOs reported violence, including killings, against women working in the public and nonprofit sectors and initiated awareness-raising campaigns to mobilize groups against harassment. Female members of the ANP reported harassment by their male counterparts, and there were reports that female ANP members and their families experienced intimidation and discrimination within their communities.
Reproductive Rights: Women generally exercised little decision-making authority regarding marriage, the timing, and number of pregnancies, birthing practices, and child education.
Couples were free from government discrimination, coercion, and violence to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, although family and community pressures to reproduce, the high prevalence of child and early marriages, and lack of accurate biological knowledge continued to limit their ability to do so. Women could expect to bear on average 5.1 children in their lifetimes. Oral contraceptives, intrauterine devices, injectable contraceptives, and condoms were available commercially and were provided at no cost in public health facilities and at subsidized rates in private health facilities and through community health workers. The UN Population Division estimated that 23 percent of women of reproductive age used a modern method of contraception. According to the World Health Organization, UN, and World Bank Trends in Maternal Mortality Report: 1990-2013, the maternal mortality rate in 2013 was 400 deaths per 100,000 live births. Although this represented a two-thirds reduction in maternal mortality since 1995, early marriage and pregnancy put girls at greater risk for premature labor, complications during delivery, and death in childbirth. Postpartum hemorrhage and obstructed labor were key causes of maternal mortality. Only 34 percent of births were attended by a skilled health practitioner and only 21 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern form of contraception.
Discrimination: Women who reported cases of abuse or who sought legal redress for other matters reported they experienced discrimination within the judicial system. Some observers, including female judges, asserted that discrimination was a result of faulty implementation of law and cultural nuances, rather than the law itself. A woman’s limited access to money and other resources to pay fines (or bribes) and the social requirement for women to have a male guardian affected their access to and participation in the judicial system. Local practices were discriminatory against women in some areas, particularly in parts of the country where courts were not functional or knowledge of the law was minimal. Judges in some remote districts acknowledged wide influence by tribal authorities in preempting cases from the formal justice system. In August a man in Baghlan was arrested for allegedly beheading his wife after village elders persuaded her to withdraw her divorce case from the formal justice system and move into a room with her husband that the elders had built for them to resolve their marital issues. In the informal system, elders relied on interpretations of sharia and tribal customs, which generally discriminated against women. Many women reported limited access to justice in male-dominated tribal shuras, where proceedings focused on reconciliation with the community and family rather than the rights of the individual. Women in some villages were not allowed any access to dispute resolution mechanisms. Lack of awareness of their legal rights and illiteracy also limited women’s ability to access justice. Women’s advocacy groups reported in some cases that the government intervened informally with local courts to encourage them to interpret laws in ways favorable to women. Many cases in remote districts, however, reportedly were resolved according to the local police officer’s or prosecutor’s discretion or interpretation of the law. When legal authorities were aware of the EVAW law and its implementation, women were in some cases able to get appropriate assistance. Prosecutors in some provinces, however, continued to be reluctant to use the EVAW law, despite their awareness of its existence. Moreover, in cases in which prosecutors brought charges under the EVAW law, judges would sometimes replace those charges with others based on the penal code.
Police, prosecutors, and judges discriminated against women in criminal and civil legal proceedings stemming from violence and forced marriages. Enhanced availability of legal aid, including through female attorneys, provided some relief in formal justice system proceedings. Family guidance centers, which provide legal and counselling services in family- and gender-based violence cases, were present in 17 provinces, up from 13 in September 2014.
Cultural prohibitions limiting women’s movement prevented many women from working outside the home and reduced their access to education, health care, police protection, and other social services. In 2013 clerics in Baghlan Province issued a religious edict (fatwa) with provisions limiting the rights of women--similar to those under the Taliban--that banned women from leaving home without a male relative, including when visiting medical clinics, and sought to shut down cosmetic shops.
The law provides for equal work without discrimination, but there are no provisions for equal pay for equal work. The EVAW law criminalizes interference with a woman’s right to work. Women faced discrimination in access to employment and terms of occupation (see section 7.d.). Some educated urban women found substantive work, but many were relegated to menial tasks. There were 2,834 female police officers as of September, including those in training, constituting less than 2 percent of the total police force. While the government made efforts to recruit additional female police officers, cultural customs and discrimination rendered recruitment and retention difficult. Women in high-profile positions of government service continued to be the subjects of threats and violence.
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and NGOs continued to promote women’s rights and freedoms. The Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission Gender Directorate did not successfully implement an action plan to increase the percentage of women in the civil service to 30 percent by 2013. The directorate reported women made up 24.1 percent of government employees at the end of 2013, up from 21.1 percent in 2012. According to the AIHRC, many women in the civil service could not meet the minimum qualification of a bachelor’s degree imposed by the priority reform and restructuring system. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the primary government agency responsible for addressing gender policy and the needs of women, had offices in all provinces and established gender units in all ministries. Gender units were established at low ranks lacking major influence, and men typically dominated leadership positions. Although the ministry’s provincial offices assisted hundreds of women by providing legal and family counseling and referring women, they could not directly assist relevant organizations. The ministry and provincial line directorates continued to suffer from a lack of capacity and resources. Reports continued that provincial offices returned abused women to their families.
Despite improvements in health over the past decade, the overall health of women and children remained poor, particularly among nomadic and rural populations and those in insecure areas. As with men, women’s life expectancy was 64 years of age. Rural women continued to suffer disproportionately from insufficient numbers of skilled health personnel, particularly female health workers.
Compared to men, women and children were disproportionately victims of preventable deaths due to communicable diseases. Although free health services were provided in public facilities, many households could not afford certain costs related to medicines or transportation to health-care facilities, and many women were not permitted to travel to health-care facilities on their own.