In the latest episode of season 4 of VICE, HBO’s Emmy winning documentary series, Correspondent and Producer Isobel Yeung reports from Kabul on the continued fight for dignity and rights for women in Afghanistan. In her powerful 15-minute piece, which we encourage everyone to watch, she explores the country’s staggering rates of violence against women, how rape is viewed there, and who is held accountable when it happens.
Isobel opens by setting the contextual stage for what women face in this part of the world, as their rights almost altogether disappeared under Taliban rule. “A full 87% of Afghan women are victims of physical, sexual or emotional violence. And if that weren’t bad enough, often it’s the women themselves who end up in jail for what are labeled ‘moral crimes’.”
In exploring the issue, she speaks with Fawzia Koofi, one of the most prominent women in the Afghan Parliament and a leading women’s rights activist, who points out that these “moral crimes” are not actually defined in Afghan law. For example, rape is considered adultery, she explains. “So a woman victim of rape is supposed to spend 16 years in jail, no matter how brutally she was raped.”
“A full 87% of Afghan women are victims of physical, sexual or emotional violence. And if that weren’t bad enough, often it’s the women themselves who end up in jail for what are labeled ‘moral crimes’.”
As a result of the systematic resistance to address this, marked by the Afghan government’s continued failure to enforce the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law, a crimes against humanity law passed by presidential decree in 2009, there are secret shelters popping up in Afghanistan that offer refuge and hiding to women who are trying to escape abusive relationships. They are run by women who are under constant threat because of what they are doing to help when no one else will, and the women they are harboring are often found out and taken back by the families from which they’ve fled.
One of the most disturbing portions of Isobel’s piece is her interview with Afghan Parliament member, Nazir Ahmad Hanafi, who is described as an ultra-conservative lawmaker, a hard-line supporter of Sharia law, and a vocal opponent of EVAW. It’s infuriating to watch as his obvious levels of disdain for the fearless journalist (and women, in general) are palpable.
Isobel starts with the topic of women’s rights and Hanafi’s immediate claim is that Afghanistan has “already accomplished the goal of women’s rights” and that discrimination doesn’t exist there. She continues by mentioning how some of the biggest clauses in EVAW protect against rape and domestic violence, to which he responds as follows…
Isobel then asks Hanafi, “What if a husband rapes his wife; is that domestic abuse? Should the man be punished or should the woman be punished for that, in your opinion?”
He replies, “What do you mean by rape?”
“If he forces sex upon his wife. I think we both know what rape is,” Isobel quickly fires back.
And with that, Hanafi abruptly ends the interview and turns away from Isobel as he issues the following threat aimed directly at her…
She poignantly notes at the close of her powerful piece, “For Afghan women, threats like this are all too real.”