'I had to run away'; not a title one would usually expect to see on a report. In fact it sounds more like a story, a tale or the title of a film. This tragic phrase is the heading of a very real report. A report on the Afghan girls and women in prisons for crimes that you and I will probably see as basic human rights.
'I had to run away', 120 pages about these voiceless souls living in four walls in constant fear. These four walls with the most basic facilities lie in the beautiful lands of Afghanistan where so much was celebrated before several wars tore it apart.
For too long we have been faced with a striking human rights abuse, which imprisons young girls and women for running away from forced marriages and abusive parents, falling in love, getting raped and fighting for a voice.
Human Rights Watch conducted interviews with 58 of these girls and women living in dire conditions in these prisons. These 58 interviews make up the, afore mentioned 120 page report titled 'I had to run away'.
How bad could it have been that they were willing to risk imprisonment?
The fall of the Taliban was seen as a turning point, a new beginning for women's rights in Afghanistan. Many greeted the toppling of the extremist regime with a sigh of relief and saw millions of girls packing their bags for school for the first time. Within just several weeks Afghanistan bore witness to its first female deputy Prime Minister; Dr Sima Samar. These swift changes shone a light into the lives of millions of girls living in darkness for so many years. Many more developments occurred in the years following with changes in constitution, laws and bringing in strengthened protection for women against many situations including domestic abuse, rape and forced and underage marriages.
Unfortunately these legal measures have not been enough as the majority of girls are still not being put through school and instead forced into marriages with men who are considerably older. As the Human Rights Watch report states, the improvements 'have been far more modest than hoped'.
Not only are we seeing a stand still in the loyalty towards creating a platform where women can work and study in peace; we are now faced with an even more difficult situation. Women and girls who have advanced have been living under social scrutiny. The extent of abuse directed at these females who have stepped into the public life range from harassment to physical attacks and in some cases murder.
With segregation of the sexes continuing at an alarming pace; I wanted to share just a few of the voices captured in this report in order to do my part in raising awareness. It is a known fact that this has been an on going problem, yet due to other disturbances occurring within Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East the position of women in this society seems to have dropped ranks in priority in commercial media, politics and the hearts and minds of the people.
As a conclusion I will not summarize what I have written and 'just end'. I do not want this topic to 'just end'. Please take some more time and read the short clippings from just three of the 58 interviews below. They speak louder than my written words. Thank You.
Bahar Q., 18, was sentenced to three years for "running away" from a forced marriage set up by her father to a man she did not want as a husband. She told Human Rights Watch:
I was seven-years-old when my father engaged me. As I got older, I kept telling my family, especially my mother, I'm not marrying him. I told my father, "This is not the hope I have. This is not the dream of a girl." My father beat me very badly. Even two of my fingers were broken. He said, "You have to marry him".
Rabia T., 20, told Human Rights Watch that she was married at age 14. She was arrested for zina. She was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison.
I went in a room and said hello to my [male] cousin. My brother shouted at me. He said, "You have no permission to talk with him". He kicked our cousin out of the house and he said he would kill me. The same day, my brother kept saying he would kill me.
Rabia explained that both she and her cousin, fearing they might be killed, fled that night around 9 o'clock. She said she took her brother's threats seriously because their mother was killed seven years before by another brother who thought she was talking to men on the telephone.
Gul Chehrah M., 17, she was arrested for zina.
"That night they killed my husband. They raped me. There was some money in the house and I had some bracelets that they took."
She said that they tried to abduct her, but she screamed for help and neighbors called the police. The police arrested her and took her to a juvenile detention facility. Gul Chehrah told Human Rights Watch that the police were suspicious of her description of events, even accusing her of being complicit in the murder of her own husband. She said the police told her:
"In one way, maybe you have a hand in all these things which have happened. In another way, maybe if you don't have a hand in these things that happened, you will get protection in this way [in prison]. Maybe if you are free, then these people will do something with you."
You can read I had to run away from Human Rights Watch website.