Women's Shelters in Afghanistan Operate Under Tense Circumstances
Wednesday, December 6, 2006 11:07 AM

Advocates for women's rights report that traditional conservative Muslim and tribal beliefs still limit women's rights in Afghanistan.  The new government is attempting to increase the rights of women, yet shelters and services for women escaping abusive or oppressive practices are under constant threat of attack from husbands, brothers, fathers and other family members of women seeking refuge.

Single women, widowed or otherwise, have little opportunity in Afghanistan.  Since women have virtually no economic power, options outside of marriage are limited.  Many women are still subject to forced and early marriages, and reports of girls as young as six being sold into marriage are not uncommon.  Women and girls in such situations are expected to endure abuse, infedelity and separation from their husbands in silence. Women's options are so limited that many commit suicide by burning themselves, rather than endure constant violence that is their reality.

Women who do seek refuge, after being arressted for crimes they did not commit or threatened with and/or suffering abuse from in-laws are still viewed as bad and deserving of punshiment because they did not endure in silence.  Afghani women who speak out against such injustices are also viewed negatively and told that they have no respect for culture. 

Some efforts to educate the public on women's rights and domestic violence have taken place with limited success.  Many leaders criticisms dictate immorality of the West, and lend some leaders to defend Afghan cultural practices.  Furthermore, most resources are limited to Kabul and other large cities, leaving many with even fewer options.

Still, international advocates and organizations are working to improve women's situations through formal and informal processes.  Despite these efforts, women may still be subject to vicious rumors and shaming that severly or completely limit her opportunities, since women's identities are linked to their families, rather than respected as individuals. 

Compiled from: Constable, Pamela, "A Precarious Shelter in Afghanistan,"  Washington Post (December 5, 2006).