Kabul, Aug 5 (EFE).- The Taliban’s rapid territorial gains across Afghanistan has put the country on the brink of a new transition of power that could return women to a dark era of oppression, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a Thursday report.
With the United States’ decision to completely withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, a process that is nearing completion, the Taliban have launched an offensive that has allowed them to control or contest half of Afghanistan’s districts and consequently reimpose their regime in those territories.
“Growing Taliban influence and control, and the possibility that a coalition government might emerge to avert a return to a fragmented civil war as occurred in the 1990s, has heightened fears that legislation like the EVAW (Elimination of Violence against Women) law will be in danger as the Taliban and conservative pro-government politicians gain more power,” HRW warns.
“Afghanistan is on the brink of another transition; preserving the gains of the EVAW law and access to justice for women will be a critical test,” the organization adds in its report titled “I Thought Our Life Might Get Better.”
In the approximately 125 districts under the control of the insurgents, “residents have been subjected to Taliban-imposed regulations governing schools, health care, government services, and public life, including their movements outside the home,” says HRW, which interviewed dozens of women across several provinces of the country.
Taliban courts offer very limited options for women in cases of family violence. In many cases, the women are forced to return home, together with their aggressor, and resolve differences through family mediation.
The non-profit maintains that “Taliban courts have also imposed harsh punishments for “moral crimes,” including zina,” which refers to premarital or extramarital sex.
“In such cases, the Taliban have sentenced the accused to cruel punishments that include lashing and, in some cases, execution,” it adds.
In the past, courts applied zina to cases of adultery and cases of sexual assault, including rape, as well as to premarital and extramarital sex.
Although the plight of women is much better than it was two decades ago, when the country was under the Taliban regime, the construction of a legal framework that protects women from violence and guarantees their equality with men has been a complicated road.
The EVAW law, signed into law by President Hamid Karzai in 2009, and reaffirmed in 2018 by current President Ashraf Ghani, makes 22 acts of abuse toward women criminal offenses, including rape, battery, forced marriage, preventing women from acquiring property, and prohibiting a woman or girl from going to school or work.
Over the past 12 years, the law has “driven slow but genuine change and has become an advocacy lynchpin for the efforts of Afghan women’s rights groups to reform other laws,” HRW claims.
However, despite the enormous accomplishments of women in Afghanistan, HRW says that women and girls who report violent crimes against them, “describe being subjected to invasive and abusive vaginal and sometimes anal examinations for the purpose of determining virginity.”
“In Afghanistan, government doctors, frequently men, conduct these examinations, often without consent. They are not limited to rape cases, and often do not focus on whether forced intercourse had taken place,” according to the non-profit.
The reported “findings” are often accepted as evidence in court, sometimes contributing to long prison terms for women and girls.
“Although Afghan human rights groups and some Afghan officials have advocated for an end to these ‘virginity tests,’ their use remains widespread,” HRW adds.
International organizations have been warning for months about a decline in donor funding to address the humanitarian crisis in the country, which has been mired in a bloody conflict for two decades.
HRW fears that with waning donor interest in Afghanistan, coupled with the withdrawal of foreign troops, there will be less international support for the advocacy and training needed to protect women. EFE