Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
IWPR interviewed dozens of women about their experiences of domestic abuse. (Photo: Eric Kanalstein/UNAMA)
Local officials in the northwestern province of Faryab have acknowledged that ongoing lawlessness is allowing perpetrators of domestic violence to act with impunity.
Law enforcement officers say that they are simply unable to venture into areas controlled by insurgents to make any arrests. Suspects were increasingly exploiting this disorder to escape to more remote parts of the province to evade justice.
In addition, in many areas outside government control Taleban courts are used to adjudicate issues of family law. This has dire consequences for the women involved.
Sarbuland Khan, head of the domestic violence unit of Faryab police, confirmed that the security forces had limited powers.
“The Faryab police has little power or capability to arrest criminals in areas where armed insurgents are present,” he said. “After committing crimes, many suspects in Faryab now hide in areas under the control of the insurgents to avoid being captured.”
IWPR interviewed dozens of women in the province about their experiences of domestic abuse.
In one particularly shocking case, a 20-year-old woman had her nose cut off by her husband who subsequently escaped into Taleban-held territory to avoid arrest.
Reza Gul, from the village of Shar Shar in Ghormach district, told IWPR, “I was 13 when my father betrothed me to 25-year-old Mohammad Khan in exchange for 1,000 dollars. A year later I was married to him.”
She said that her marriage had been violent right from the start.
“I was brutally beaten by my husband because [he felt] I wasn’t worth those 1,000 dollars that he paid my father.”
Now with a one-year-old baby, she recalled how her husband had twice broken her hand and leg. In early 2015, the violence reached an intolerable level.
“At the start of January 2015 my husband got angry with me without any reason and started beating me so hard that I fainted,” she continued, adding that at that point she had returned to her father’s house to seek help.
Her father approached a panel of Taleban judges to ask them to arbitrate. They ruled that Reza Gul should return to live with her husband but ordered that he should behave more kindly to her.
However, when she returned to her marital home on January 16, Mohammad Khan once again attacked her, slicing off her nose with a sharp knife before escaping. He has yet to be apprehended.
Reza Gul’s family took her to a local clinic where doctors told her that there was nowhere in Afghanistan where her wounds could be treated.
After her case won media attention, Faryab governor Syed Anwar Sadaat sent her for treatment in a Turkish hospital.
Sadaat told IWPR that the local authorities were unable to combat violence against women due to the lack of security in the area.
“Everything in Faryab province is related to war and insecurity,” he said. “As long as there is fighting in Faryab, we will not be able to do anything.”
Zarlasht Bariz, head of women’s legal affairs at the Faryab office of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) agreed that the lack of government control meant that gender violence was now rampant.
“Taleban rule in Ghormach district has allowed men to be violent and cruel against women,” she said, adding that tribal and ad hoc courts simply did not prevent such abuses.
Sharifa Azimi, head of women’s affairs in Faryab province, said that there was simply nothing she could do to help women like Reza Gul.
“As the provincial head of women’s affairs, I find it unacceptable that a man can illegally buy a 13-year-old girl from her father for 1,000 dollars, torture that helpless girl and mutilate her in public,” she continued.
“I feel humiliated and ashamed that I bear such a big responsibility towards the women of Faryab but I can’t properly perform my duty.”
BEATEN AND ABUSED
In another recent case, a drug addict attempted to kill his wife by stabbing her repeatedly in the stomach. He said that she had dishonored him by continuing to work as a teacher despite his objections.
Zubaida, a 26-year-old resident of Maimana’s fourth district, told IWPR how her husband had tried to prevent her working.
“I was married to Kaikawos, my cousin, six years ago; however, my husband went to Iran to find a job and left me alone with my mother and our two infant children in Maimana for four years.”
During that time, she began teaching in the village of Khwaja Paitakht.
Since his return two years ago, Kaikawos had repeatedly beaten and abused his wife. Zubaida said that he had burned her work clothes and even tried to strangle her.
“I am a teacher, but my husband is not happy about me working and so turned my life into a living hell for the last two years.”
In another attempt to stop her working, Zubeida’s husband sent her to live with his parents in Sherin Taghab district, 50 kilometres away from Maimana.
Undeterred, she continued to make the lengthy round trip from home to school and back again.
“When my husband realised that taking me to Sherin Taghab couldn’t stop me from continuing my job, he shared my phone number with a local Taleban commander in Sherin Taghab and complained about me.”
Threatened by the Taleban with death unless she gave up teaching, Zubaida had to return to Maimana.
Worse was to come. In May this year Kaikawos took a knife and stabbed her eight times in stomach, before stabbing himself. He has been charged with attempted murder.
Having survived this latest ordeal, Zubaida decided to file for divorce.
IWPR managed to track down Kaikawos to the hospital in Maimana where he was receiving treatment for his self-inflicted wounds.
Asked why he had attempted to murder his spouse, Kaikawos replied, “Zubaida is my wife and I don’t like her working alongside male teachers at school. She’s my wife, not their wife. It is true that I am addicted to heroin, but I am not that much of a weakling that my wife has to support me.”
Nooria Fikri, who works for the Maimana gender rights NGO Zanan Barai Zanan, said that it was weak government had left women and girls at the mercy of violent men.
This appalling situation, Fikri continued, “creates the opportunity for every criminal to take advantage.”
Indeed, amid the lack of security in the province, local militia leaders are also able to act with impunity.
Gul Andam, a 60-year-old mother-of-eight from Dara Zang village in Garziwan district, told IWPR how she was hospitalised for two months in December 2015 after an attack by a local gang.
Gul Andam said that a militia commander had ordered her to be beaten in relation to a family dispute over land.
“[His men] hit me and beat me with the handles of their guns. Somehow I survived, but I was badly wounded in my stomach, shoulder and legs.”
Asked why she had not reported the violence to the local authorities, Gull Andam answered, “The local government in Faryab is more likely to listen to a stone than to the problems of a woman.”
She said that she still lived in fear that the local strongman would order her to be killed.
“There are many powerful and armed gangs in Garziwan district,” she continued. “They don’t just rule in villages and some remote areas, but anywhere they want. They can easily kill their targets even inside a hospital, in the streets or on a main road in [the provincial capital] Maimana.”
Reza Gul, who has returned to Faryab after her treatment in Turkey, also believes she faces a bleak future.
Now living in a safe house, she said, “I don’t have any plans to ever married again. I don’t want to experience [the same pain] and for another man to see the wounds which were given to me by my first husband, Mohammad Khan.”
This report was produced under IWPR’s Promoting Human Rights and Good Governance in Afghanistan initiative, funded by the European Union Delegation to Afghanistan.
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