Despite some measures of progress following the Taliban’s fall from power in late 2001, Afghan women and girls continue to suffer brutal acts of violence and inequality, according to a United Nations (UN) report released today. The 18-page document, entitled “The Situation of Women and Girls in Afghanistan” stated, “In the absence of an effective national force, the lack of security across the country continues to impede progress in the rehabilitation of Afghanistan and the advancement of women,” according to the Associated Press. Dire conditions exacerbated by drought and decades of warfare are driving the sale of young girls as brides. While statistics on the practice are unavailable, many non-governmental organizations working in the country report its growing prevalenceÑdespite existing prohibitions under civil codes and Islamic law. Marzia Basel, a former Afghan judge and founder of the Kabul Afghan Women Judges Association, told the Washington Post, “there are laws, and then there is custom and there is great poverty.”
Young and old women alike face hardships in Afghanistan. Challenged in a judicial system entrenched in conservative Islamic ideology, many women–frequently those widowed by war and forced to remarry or enter prostitution–face imprisonment. For those with low status and/or education, the system is particularly complex and harsh. One woman, Zarghona, who was raped by a group of male guests invited by her mother-in-law, was sentenced to three years for “prostitution.” “I didn’t have any lawyer to represent me,” she told the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, security in Afghanistan remains bleak. UN peacekeeping leaders have repeatedly warned that increased security is necessary for continued international aid work. UN Undersecretary-general for Peacekeeping Operations John-Marie Guehenno told Reuters, “While the (peace) process has so far successfully averted full-scale fighting between major rival factions, Afghans continue to suffer on a human level from the insecurity created by the conjunction of weak national security and strong local commanders.” Last month, German Defense Minister Peter Struck told reporters that civilians and German peacekeeping troops serving in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) might evacuate Afghanistan should a US-led war with Iraq erupt.