Moral crimes in Afghanistan

In January of 2012, the Human Rights Watch reported that about 400 women were locked away in Afghani prisons and juvenile delinquent centers for something called “moral crimes.” Today, and on the eve of a major departure of international forces from the area, that number has risen to 600.

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So what are moral crimes? They include fleeing from abusive homes, escaping arranged marriages, and having sex outside of marriage–including rape.

Yes, you read that right. Women can be prosecuted and thrown in prison for being raped.

These women–victims of crime–are jailed for their “loose morals.” Their attackers regularly enjoy impunity.

It is estimated that 110 of these women are under 18.

Afghanistan Women On The Inside

New York Times article on the issue describes a few of the accused women:

Asma W., 36, ran away from her husband after he beat her, threw boiling water on her, gave her a sexually transmitted disease and announced that he would marry his mistress. Fawzia, 15, took refuge with a family that drugged her and forced her into prostitution. Gulpari M., 16, was kidnapped off the street by a stalker who decided he wanted to marry her; she turned him in to the first policeman she saw.”

It gets worse: this month, the Afghan parliament refused to endorse Afghanistan’s 2009 Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women:

So vociferous were the law’s opponents, including religious leaders who are members of parliament, that the speaker halted debate after 15 minutes and sent the law back to parliamentary commissions for further consideration. Those against the law characterised it as a violation of Afghan religious and cultural values, ignoring Afghanistan’s history of child marriage, forced marriage, domestic violence and the prosecution of rape victims.”

Afghani women’s rights activists are deeply concerned that their cause–not to mention their achievements over the last 10 years–will be abandoned once troops leave the country.

Conditions are grim, and foreign donors may “consider the plight of Afghan women to be a lost cause.”

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The Human Rights Watch outlines the major steps that the country must take if it is to protect its women and girls:

The Karzai government should abolish the practice of prosecuting women for ‘moral crimes’. All laws that discriminate against women should be amended or revoked, and the EVAW law should be fully enforced throughout the country. The government should develop and implement a plan to increase the percentage of the police force that is female. And greater support is needed for shelters for women fleeing violence so that there is at least one shelter per province.”

Education is key, but so is the relentless, hopeful support of the international community.

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The “Lose the Lads’ Mags” campaign: Overdue or overzealous?

UK Feminista and Object have come together to promote the Lose the Lads’ Mags campaign, which asks stores to remove pornographic magazines from their shelves. Such images, they claim, violate the Equality Act 2010 by involuntarily exposing store staff and customers to offensive images.

According to an article by The Guardian, the groups want to take legal action against stores that continue to stock such magazines, on the grounds that this exposure “violates the dignity of individual employees or customers, or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.”

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Others, however, disagree, arguing that banning such magazines is not only a form of censorship, but also a way to put sex workers out of work.

Here’s what I think:

1. To my knowledge, these groups are not actually trying to eradicate these magazines, they’re just trying to get them off the shelves of mainstream stores, where all sorts of non-pornography seeking people have to see and/or sell them. Sell these types of publications in more, ah, appropriate places. Specialized shops and the like.

2. I think it’s interesting that all sorts of people suddenly come of the woodwork to protect the rights of sex workers when there’s talk of materials getting banned. Are job opportunities in the sex work economy really these dissenters’ number one priority?

3. It’s important to note that we’re not just talking about pornography. We’re talking about public images of men and women in objectifying poses, and in a patriarchal society, we’re especially addressing such images of women. These pictures are humiliating and offensive to some people in the same way that images with racist or homophobic themes are. Why? Because these images play to a culture that enjoys the marginalization and oppression of specific groups of people.

An example of "redface"

An example of “redface”

The bottom line is, if you have no problem whatsoever with public pornographic images, at least try to understand why others would.

Then do some research on the working conditions that most sex workers face.

Mexico’s “invisible women”

This week, a horribly graphic video of a woman being beheaded in Mexico made its way onto the Internet and was eventually posted on Facebook. The woman, bound and kneeling, is decapitated by a masked man with a knife before a group of observers.

The poster’s intentions? To let Facebook users know what’s really going on in the world–a right that, until now, Facebook supported. The site received numerous complaints about the video–as they have about other graphically violent videos–and it was eventually removed.

But not before it got 2,500 likes.

Beyond the ethics of Facebook and the question of whether or not users should be exposed to such material, the bigger story, of course, is about the video itself, and the murdered victim. Reports are that the woman was killed by her husband, a gang member in the Mexican drug cartel, for allegedly cheating on him.

As horrible as this video is, it’s far from the first recorded incident of gender-based violence. Violence against women in Mexico so common that it’s almost unremarkable. Femicido–femicide, or the killing of women because they are women–is a widespread phenomenon. Everyday, women simply disappear.

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Why is this happening? According to Women Under Siege, it’s largely due to a culture of allowed violence, also known as impunity:

“It is a horrible concept that is reduced to this: You want to beat up a stranger, your wife or girlfriend, murder her, torture her, kidnap her, slice her up or sell her. You can do it, and chances are nothing will ever happen to you. Sick minds, macho minds, have free rein because the government does little to stop the violence against women.”

Most women who find the strength to speak frequently disappear, their tortured bodies found stabbed, decapitated, or hung off bridges or in trees. The government does nothing: “The women who speak up are dismissed, told they are locas, told that all of their daughters were part of the narcotics business or wanted to run away.”

To everyone except their families, these women are invisible. They are erased as though they never existed.

But just like the videos, these women are real. Their suffering is real. Their deaths are real. We may not want to watch the videos on Facebook, we may not even want to read about them in the news. It’s a lot to handle, and after all, what can we really do?

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For one, we can talk about it. We can write about it. We can raise awareness and make their stories known. We can stop worrying about the kinds of things we do and do not want to hear about on the Internet and start having real discussions about serious problems. We can express respect, empathy, and sadness–for the dead and for the families that lost their mothers, sisters, and daughters.

We can acknowledge–at the very least–that to us, they are indeed visible.

Violence against women in India: The norm?

Protestors have taken to the streets after another horrific rape in India. This past Wednesday, a five-year-old girl was found in a New Delhi apartment after being reported missing by her parents on Monday. The girl was abducted, tortured and raped for two days by a 23-year-old man.

The New York Times reports that, in addition to beating, strangling, and genitally mutilating the girl, the suspect inserted an eight inch bottle and a candle inside her. The objects had to be surgically removed.

On top of such a horrifying crime, the girl’s parents told reporters that the police “had failed to take their complaint seriously, failed to carry out an adequate search and then offered them 2,000 rupees—about $37—if they would keep quiet about the case.”

There has been a recent trend in extreme violence against women in India, or at least a trend in the visibility of these crimes. This case comes just months after the December gang rape and subsequent death of a 23-year-old woman. A few days after her death, in an unrelated incident, an 18-year-old woman committed suicide after being raped by two men. Last month, a Swiss woman touring the country with her husband was raped by a group of men who also beat and robbed them.

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These brutal crimes speak volumes about the culture of violence against women in India. Protestors are also speaking out about India’s culture of victim-blaming among the police and judicial system.

According to The Huffington Post:

“This is the mentality which most Indian men are suffering from unfortunately,’ Ranjana Kumari, director for the New Delhi-based Centre for Social Research, told the newspaper. “That is the mindset that has been perpetrating this crime because they justify it indirectly, you asked for it so it is your responsibility.”

Victim-blaming is not unique to India. For many emerging countries it is still the cultural norm. Police incompetence–and indifference–make matters worse.

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India’s Parliament passed a new law last month making sexual harassment a crime, and rape resulting in the victim’s death punishable by the death penalty.

Passing the law itself was a significant step in the right direction, but the way in which this most recent rape of a child is handled–and the punishment her attacker receives–will set perhaps an even more important precedent for India.