Women's rights 'in decline' in Afghanistan

Women in Afghanistan are facing increasing violence almost eight years after the fall of the Taliban, a UN report showed today.

The report, issued by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, focuses on the "growing trend" of violence and sexual threats made against women in public life.

It reveals examples of targeted killings of professional women as well as a list of threats, discrimination, intimidation and harassment aimed at working women and their families.

Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said: "The limited space that opened up for Afghan women following the demise of the Taliban regime in 2001 is under sustained attack, not just by the Taliban themselves, but by deeply ingrained cultural practices and customs.

"Despite a number of significant advances in terms of the creation of new legislation and institutions, there is a chronic failure at all levels of government to advance the protection of women's rights in Afghanistan," the she added.

Ms Pillay said attacks on girls' schools and female pupils threaten to have a "devastating long-term impact" on Afghan women getting involved in their society.

"There have been some encouraging incremental advances in the area of girls' education in recent years, and it is extremely important to have women participating in the country's political arena.

"But the Taliban and other conservative forces seem determined to take the country back to the Stone Age," she added.

The 32-page report shows a society where rape is widespread and victims are more likely than perpetrators to receive punishment.

It also suggests that information about sexual violence and rape is "anecdotal, incomplete and at times unreliable".

Researchers who worked on the report said that "rape is a widespread occurrence in all parts of Afghanistan and in all communities, and all social groups".

Government action is reportedly inadequate and in many cases the police and judicial officials are unaware that rape is a serious criminal offence.

The report identifies women who travel unaccompanied, those who have previously been subjected to sexual violence, widows, divorcees and women whose husbands are out of the country as those most likely to be targeted by rapists.

"Rapists include individuals who are entrusted as guardians or as care-takers of children and women, such as staff of prisons, juvenile rehabilitation centres, police stations or orphanages," the report stated.

Cultural norms sometimes aggravate the problem as rape is used to "dishonour" another family, tribe or clan over revenge for a previous crime.

"The Government has a duty to eradicate these harmful practices by making them illegal, educating its population and demonstrating leadership and commitment to safeguard the rights of all Afghan women and girls.

"The silence surrounding the widely-known problem of violence against the girls and women of Afghanistan must be broken," Ms Pillay said.