by Alyssa Reeves
Written for ENGL125, Honors English 2
How the United Nations Can End Violence Against Women in Afghanistan
In 2000, an Afghan woman named Leila was kidnapped and taken to an isolated village where she was forced to marry a powerful military leader. In order to compel Leila to comply with her new husband’s orders, Leila’s children were held at gunpoint. She endured beatings and rape and witnessed her new husband batter and rape his daughter (Kamal). A short time ago, Afghanistan faced more than three decades of instability in government. Despite the recent overthrow of the Taliban regime, young girls and women in Afghanistan are still threatened continuously by violence and inequality. By working closely with Afghanistan’s government, the United Nations should take specific measures to fight against violence toward women in Afghanistan.
More than 50 years ago, the United Nations (UN) adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations” (“Universal Declaration of Human Rights”). The United Nations’ goal was to develop a set of guidelines that would reflect “different cultural traditions and incorporate common values inherent in the world's principal legal systems and religious and philosophical traditions” (“A United Nations Priority”). Their hope was to encourage member countries to adopt these liberties into their own practices. Articles specify rights such as “marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouse,” and “everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind…” (“Universal Declaration of Human Rights”). Because there is no international government, the UN can only encourage countries to implement these freedoms into their own societies. Frequent forced marriages and the unfair treatment of women make it obvious that Afghanistan is holding onto a cultural legacy and has failed to treat women fairly.
Every day in Afghanistan, young girls and women are victims of violence and abuse. Unfortunately, many go unreported. Cases that are reported offer a small glimpse into the horrific conditions faced daily by Afghan women. A 2005 report by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations described intense violence against women in both public and private realms of life.
In addition to early and forced marriages, domestic violence, sexual violence, kidnapping, forced seclusion, so-called honor killings and the exchange of girls and women for debt or feud…continued to be a major part of women’s and girls’ lives in Afghanistan. . . . (United Nations)
A large percentage of violence occurs in the family. For example, honor crimes are defined as punishment for women who have supposedly offended their family’s customs, traditions, or honor. Actions such as making complaints against violent attackers are often seen as dishonoring to the family (“Afghanistan”). Some women find themselves so incredibly desperate to escape violence that they turn to suicide, often self-immolation. In 2005, the city of Herat reported 75 cases of women setting themselves on fire (United Nations).
Violence is still occurring in Afghanistan today for two key reasons. First, the recent War on Terror removed the Taliban in 2001 but not the fundamentalists. After the Taliban was defeated, a group called the Northern Alliance came into rule, working with the United States and Great Britain to bring a more democratic-style government back to Afghanistan. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan argues that the Northern Alliance “has no ideological difference with the Taliban… [And] they are as much misogynist as the Taliban” (“On the Situation of Afghan Women”). Because of their intention to bring democracy back into place, the Northern Alliance is strongly supported by the United States as thus the United States is simply “replacing one fundamentalist regime with another” (“On the Situation of Afghan Women”). As a world superpower, the United States is definitely in position to take a leadership role in aiding Afghanistan, but since the intention of the UN is to act as a peacekeeping organization, it should be the one to manage this mission.
Furthermore, too many cases go unreported. The UN provided numerous grounds for this including inadequate or non-existing protection or solutions.
Violence in the private sphere is perceived as a family issue and women and girls who experience violence are either unable or afraid to report the problem to authorities. If they leave their family environment, they risk criminal charges, incarceration, and stigmatization from the community. (United Nations)
The people who commit violent crimes against women are consequently unpunished. It seems reasonable to conclude that actions by the United Nations must be taken, strengthened, and monitored in order to protect Afghan women from violence.
The United Nations has a responsibility to protect human rights worldwide. Over the last 20 years, the UN has often considered the situation in Afghanistan and currently holds a system of priorities including but not limited to the following: “to stabilize the country and assist in the creation of a transitional government, to create conditions that allow for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, [and] to develop a plan for the reconstruction and recovery of the country” (“Afghan Women”). In spite of the United Nations’ well-constructed goals, Afghan women still suffer. One female told her story to an Amnesty International delegate:
We have no permission to leave the home so no-one (to turn to). We can’t even tell our mothers and fathers, community or mullahs. If we do, they will take our children and our husbands will leave us. (We) can’t even talk to other women. No one knows about human rights. (qtd. in “Afghanistan”)
Because the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created by the international community to reflect worldwide values, it is plausible to assume the international community supports these liberties. Therefore, what is happening to Afghan women is ethically wrong.
There are steps the United Nations should take to aid Afghan women. First, the UN Secretary General must “ensure that the recommendations made by international human rights bodies. . .are implemented” (“Women in Afghanistan. . .”). This can be done with the use of recurrent reports made by UN correspondents or, if necessary, persuasion and enforcement by United Nation forces. The creation of strategies by the UN to deter violence is unhelpful to women if these strategies are not played out.
Second, the United Nations should create and strengthen safe havens for women who are victims of violence. This will solve the common problem of girls and women being returned to violent families. At the same time, the judicial system in Afghanistan should be improved to successfully serve justice upon anyone who commits a violent crime. The UN needs to send in experts in judiciary systems to speak with Afghan officials and demonstrate how to develop an effective structure. Currently, women who report crimes of violence are often turned away and regarded as a disgrace to their families. (“Women in Afghanistan”) For the most part, this is due to cultural complacency. The cycle of violence against women has been worn deep into the roots of Afghan society and has continued for more than 26 years.
The United Nations and the international community in general should stop work to ensure that no military equipment is provided to any forces in Afghanistan “unless the force promises not to use it to commit or facilitate human rights abuses” (“Women in Afghanistan”). Weapons are presumably one of the most powerful forms of persuasion and control and arming violent forces is as logical as pushing cake in front of an overweight kid and expecting him not to eat it.
Finally, the United Nations can encourage and support the Afghan government to take action. Entering into a country to take action will not ultimately result in peace. The government needs to be instructed on how to solve its own dilemmas. Whether this is in the form of military action to aid local troops in enforcing human rights laws or financial support to fund the investigation of reported violence, Afghanistan cannot be expected to act alone nor can the United Nations. By working together, the United Nations can spur the Afghan government into protecting its women from violence.
Violence against women in Afghanistan has been present for far too long. Now is the perfect opportunity for the United Nations to step up and aid the Afghan government to halt this violation of human rights. In the words of Indian political and spiritual leader Mohandas Gandhi, “There is no occasion for women to consider themselves subordinate or inferior to men” (Lewis). Violence against women is simply unacceptable and Afghan women can wait no longer for the world to hear their cries.
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United Nations. 22 Mar. 2007
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Kamal, Sarah. “No Longer Behind Closed Doors: Violence against women.” UN Chronicle 5 Mar. 2005: 55. United Nations. 22 Mar. 2007 <http://www.un.org/Pubs/chronicle/2005/issue3/0305p55.html>.
Lewis, Jone Johnson. “Women Quotes.” Wisdom Quotes: Quotations to inspire and 2006. WisdomQuotes.com. 22 Mar. 2007 <http://www.wisdomquotes.com/cat_women.html>.
“On the Situation of Afghan Women.” Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). 22 Mar 2007 <http://www.rawa.org/wom-view.htm>.
United Nations. Economic and Social Council. The
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“Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” General Assembly. 10 Dec. 1948. United Nations. 23 Mar. 2007 <http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html>.
“Women in Afghanistan: A human rights catastrophe.” 1995. Amnesty International. 22 Mar. 2007 <http://www.amnesty.org/ailib/intcam/afgan/afgtoc.htm>.