The place in Afghanistan where it’s “easy to kill women”
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A 19-year-old shot by her husband’s family after he claimed she wasn’t a virgin. An 18-year-old was killed with her mother because of suspicion she had had an abortion. And a 17-year-old killed and burned when she tried to escape from a forced marriage. Our Observer in Ghor province, Afghanistan, brings us three stories of honour killings from the last three weeks.
Ghor is a remote mountain province 400 km west of the capital Kabul. The Taliban and other armed groups are active, and state control is weak. It’s also one of the least-developed provinces in Afghanistan: child marriage is common, and “honour killings” – often women trying to flee marriages they were forced into – are frequent.
According to Afghan law, girls must be 16 years old to marry, and boys 18. But our Observer says that in the remote villages of Ghor, the law is seldom respected. The marriage of a 6-year-old girl to a 55-year mullah in the province 2016 provoked international outrage.
>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Marriage of 6-year-old girl in exchange for goat shocks Afghans
“You see how easy it is to kill women here”Masooma Anwari, a longtime women’s rights activist, is also head of women’s affairs in the province, a position appointed by the central government in Kabul.
About three weeks ago in Shahrak district, a 19-year-old girl called Bibigol was shot by her husband and his family. She was forced to marry a boy her age five years ago; he was 13 at the time, she was 14. Because they were children, they didn’t have sexual intercourse. Then three weeks ago her husband wanted to have sex with her for the first time. He claimed that she wasn’t a virgin. After arguments between the two families, tribal leaders ordered her to be shot. She was executed in cold blood on a hillside.
Then on April 3 activists in the province published photographs on Facebook showing the burned bodies of a woman and a man. The bodies had been discovered in a ravine near a village in the province’s Du Layna district.
The photos show the burned body of a young woman named Soraya. She was 17 years old, and lived in Du Layna. She ran away with a male cousin and while they were fleeing they killed her husband. The couple went to the house of Soraya’s mother in another village. But her husband’s brothers followed them and killed all three of them to avenge their family’s honour - Soraya, her cousin, and her mother. They burned Soraya’s body afterwards. We asked the police to arrest the husband’s brothers, but they said it was impossible because they fled to territory under control of the Taliban. The police said there was nothing they could do.
And then, just four days ago, an unmarried girl called Mahansar, who was about 18, was killed along with her mother Tabarrok, 45, on the orders of tribal leaders, also in the Dawlat Yar district. They claimed she had got pregnant and had had an abortion. But there’s no sign she was even pregnant. You see how easy it is to kill women here.
“People think killers are defending their honour”
Ghor is a no man’s land. People are poor and not educated, and the culture of violence and weapons is well-established. People live in fear – in fear of the powerful tribal leaders, who are often involved in the drug trade, and the Taliban. The police are ineffective and just think about getting more money.
It’s unsafe for everyone, but especially for women. Many women here were forced into marriages when they were still children – as early as 10 years old; and sometimes even younger. When they get older they want to run away from the miserable life they were forced into. And if they try they often end up becoming victims of honour killings by male members of their tribe. People don’t see these men as criminals: they accept that they are defending their family’s honour. Also, it’s easy for the perpetrators to find shelter in the Taliban regions, where the police can’t arrest them.
People in Afghanistan talk about women who are killed in honour killings. But they don’t talk about the women who choose to end their lives themselves because they are living in situations they can’t bear. It is very common for women to commit suicide by eating rat poison or setting fire to themselves.
We are trying to change this culture of violence by working with the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs, which is in charge of mosques in Afghanistan. We try to persuade local imams to condemn the violence against women in our region. But such deeply ingrained attitudes take time to change.