A young woman was recently beaten in public by a group of men including her uncle and her father-in-law in Rabat, a small village in northeastern Afghanistan. The gruesome scene, which was caught on camera and uploaded to social media, shows the extent to which violence against women is still widespread in the country.
After it was posted on Facebook on February 1, this video was shared several hundred times and was picked up by the local media. The incident itself occurred in mid-January, says Sonnatollah Teymour, the spokesperson for the province of Takhar, where the incident took place.
According to the men who beat her, they discovered her with a man at her home while her husband was away in Iran, and so they decided to punish her in the main village square.
The woman said that she was trying to call her husband but, because she didn’t have service, she went looking for help. She said the man in question was just trying to help her, and that he did not come into her house.
At the beginning of the video, the young woman sinks to her knees and prepares to receive her punishment. (Screengrab from the video)
Our team decided to just publish a few screengrabs of this video and not the footage itself, as it is shocking and violent.
In beginning of the video, the young woman seems calm and doesn’t struggle. She’s surrounded by dozens of men. Five men start beating her head, shoulders and back while shouting insults at her. After about 45 seconds, a man kicks her back and she falls face forward onto the ground. She gets up again quickly and the men keep beating her with wooden sticks. She doesn’t ever cry or protest.
Her attackers scream out sexist insults and, on several occasions, scream out "Allah akbar".
A man kicks the woman’s back. (Screengrab from the video)
The group of men beat the young woman with wooden sticks. (Screengrab from the video)
"Violence against women goes unpunished"
Kameleh Sahar, a freelance Afghan journalist who lives in Takhar, has been following the story closely.
“We don’t know exactly what this woman was accused of. After this video went viral, the family refused to provide any details about it. It would bring even more dishonour on the family if they confirmed that the woman had an extra-marital affair if, indeed, that was the case.
The family just referred to a “misunderstanding”. Journalists who met the victim said that she told them that she wasn’t going to file a complaint because she was afraid the men would kill her.
What’s important to know is that the men in the video aren’t Taliban. They aren’t even members of an extremist group. One of them is an important local figure and he’s from the same family as the woman.
Like many important local figures, he is a former member of the mujahideen who fought against Soviet soldiers in the 1980s and then against the Taliban. Many of these mujahideen then organised into small local militia groups. They have a lot of money and political influence. Most of the other men who took part in the beating are just ordinary people who are poor and uneducated and who think of women as objects.
Screengrab of the video.
This culture of violence against women is quite widespread in Afghanistan but it is worse in rural areas, especially in the north. The government has very little presence in these areas and there are a lot of forced marriages.
Local authorities don’t do much more than organise a few workshops per year on women’s rights. These gatherings are held in larger cities, but no one living in these small villages has heard anything about them. In other words, there’s basically no hope of things changing anytime soon.
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According a report published in 2014 by the United Nations, 87 percent of Afghan women experience domestic violence at least once in their lives.
The Afghan government said that they sent a group of investigators to the region to find those responsible and that the woman’s brother, uncle and father-in-law had all been arrested. But our Observer isn’t optimistic.
After this video was shared by a bunch of different media and stirred up a lot of anger of social media, the government felt as if it had to do something. These men might have been arrested, but I can’t imagine them actually being convicted of a crime.
Violence against women goes unpunished. The first issue is that no one goes after the perpetrators because they don’t want this kind of story to be divulged and to tarnish the family’s reputation. And even if a woman or her friends or family actually try to do something, the police and the courts only follow up on a few of these cases. There are local figures who are considered to be community leaders, and even the police and local authorities wouldn’t dare to defy them, especially over an incident involving a woman.
According to the United Nations, only 5 percent of cases involving violence against women actually go to court.