Afghans demand action after husband cuts off wife’s nose


A photo of a woman with a bandage where her nose should be has shocked Afghanistan and the world. The young Afghan woman’s nose was cut off by her abusive husband. Her case has outraged human rights activists in Afghanistan, who say that their country’s leaders – particularly religious ones – need to do a whole lot more to fight rampant violence against women.

Reza Gul, 22, who was interviewed by the BBC from her hospital bed in Kabul, said that her 25-year old husband had attacked her on January 19, with the help of several other men. This took place in their village of Gourmach, in the northern province of Faryab, where the Taliban have a significant presence. She said she had been suffering abuse at the hands of her husband ever since their arranged marriage when she was 15. This time, she said, he attacked her after he came home from Iran – where he often travels for work – and heard that she had been leaving the house without permission from his family.

He is currently on the run from the authorities.

Officials from Faryab province visit Reza Gul in the hospital. 

“The government must appoint imams who publicly condemn violence against women”

Sima (not her real name) is an Afghan women’s rights activist who has been in contact with a relative of Rizagul’s.

According to people in the village, her husband has gone into hiding with help from the Taliban. While violence against women is generalised in our country, it is especially bad in areas where the Taliban have a powerful presence. That’s because if men do something wrong, they know they can run from justice and find refuge with the insurgents, who condone such violence.

This past year has been a nightmare for woman in Afghanistan. We’ve seen cases of extreme violence, every kind you can imagine – lynching, burning, stoning, beheading, and lashing. And of course, forced marriages and sexual abuse is just as common as always.

A photo taken before she was transferred to Kabul. 

There was notably the case of Rokhsahana [Editor’s Note: a woman who was stoned to death after being accused of adultery]. It was a huge story, and the authorities promised that her killers would be brought to justice. But as of today, most of her killers remain free.

With her baby, in a hospital in Kabul. 

The government publishes statistics on violence against women, but they’re ridiculous, since most women who are victim of violence don’t dare complain to the police. In 2013, for example, the government reported 4,505 cases of violence against women in the entire country, which is nothing compared to estimates from local activists and international organisations. Meanwhile, in rural areas, where the most violence seems to take place, there are barely any records kept at all.

I think that the best way to reduce this violence, in a religious country like Afghanistan, is through religious leaders. Imams must raise this issue in their speeches at the mosques. And the ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs, which is in charge of appointing imams, must choose more moderate imams who will publicly condemn violence against women. It’s going to be a tough road ahead, since the current imams have a lot of power over the government – they can influence public opinion. Changing the imams is a political risk. But it must be done!

The government must also make more of an effort to ensure that laws are applied and that criminals are prosecuted. There again, it won’t be easy, since some members of our parliament have extremist ideas.

Finally, I think the media must talk about this violence, informing not just men but also women about women’s rights.

“The worst country in the world for women”

According to research by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Afghanistan is the worst country on earth in which to be a woman. The statistics are brutal: according to Global Rights, nine out of ten Afghan women have experienced at least one kind of violence in their lives – physical violence, sexual or psychological violence, or forced marriage. Overwhelmingly, their relatives and husbands are committing these crimes.

In 2009, Afghanistan passed a law that set new penalties for underage and forced marriage, rape, forced prostitution, and other abuses. But a UN survey found that penalties were only applied in 17 percent of cases that were actually reported.

Despite rampant domestic violence in Afghanistan, there are only 14 women’s shelters in the entire country.