Friday, March 04, 2005

fwd: Why Some Afghan Women Prefer Death to Marriage

There is still much hardship for women in Afghanistan.

Please see my "concerns" page:
My blog:

Forwarded Message:
Subject: Why Some Afghan Women Prefer Death to Marriage
Date: Mar 2, 2005

> Why Some Afghan Women Prefer Death to Marriage
> Forced Into Marriages in Exchange for Money, Some Afghan Girls Are Making
> Desperate Choices
> Afghan teenage sisters Khusboo and Heena made a pact that if they could not
> escape forced marriages, they would kill themselves. (
> Dec. 11, 2004 — They had fled the Taliban, returned home to a "new
> Afghanistan," and were looking forward to continuing their education when
Khusboo and
> Heena heard the calamitous news.
> School, the two Afghan sisters were told, was a luxury the family could not
> afford. Instead, the girls — who were 14 and 15 years old at the time — would
> be married off to older men in exchange for money, or the customary "bride
> price" paid by Afghan grooms to the bride's family.
> For Khusboo and Heena, whose last names are being withheld to protect their
> identity, the news was devastating. Raised by their grandmother in Kabul, the
> family fled to Pakistan after the Taliban swept into power in 1996. And though
> life as refugees in Pakistan was extremely hard, they did manage to go school.
> So when the U.S. invasion ousted the Taliban and the sisters returned home to
> the Afghan capital, they had every reason to believe they would join the army
> of girls across the city trooping to schools, enjoying a freedom they were
> denied under the repressive regime.
> But that, their grandmother told them, was not to be. "I was so sad because I
> didn't want to get married," said Heena, speaking through a translator. "I
> wanted to go to school."
> Rather than be sold into marriage, the two girls decided to run away — an
> extremely audacious and risky act in conservative Afghan society.
> 'Afghanistan Has Been Transformed'
> After decades of civil war, peace and stability — of sorts — are finally
> returning to Afghanistan.
> On Tuesday, Hamid Karzai was sworn in as Afghanistan's first democratically
> elected leader. Speaking at Camp Pendleton, Calif., as Vice President Dick
> Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld attended the inauguration in
> President Bush hailed the historic milestone in Afghanistan's history.
> "Afghanistan has been transformed from a haven for terrorists to a steadfast
> ally in the war on terror," Bush told a gathering of Marines. "And the
> American people are safer because of your courage."
> But even as Afghan females are finally enjoying basic human rights, such as
> the right to an education, to work and to vote, Afghanistan remains a
> profoundly conservative Muslim nation.
> Cultural traditions — including age-old, honor-bound codes of conduct —
> still shackle and oppress several women, especially those living outside
> Escaping Forced Marriages by Suicide
> In the past few years, there have been an increasing number of news reports
> about suicides by self-immolation among Afghan women. Although nationwide
> statistics are hard to come by, hospitals and aid agencies in cities like
Kabul and
> Herat in western Afghanistan have recorded a number of female burn cases.
> Forced into marriages — often with older, richer men — and faced with a life
> of endless exploitation and drudgery, an untold number of Afghan females are
> dousing themselves with kerosene used in cooking stoves and setting themselves
> on fire.
> "There is an absolute level of despair, that you will never be able to make a
> choice about your life and that really there is no way out, and knowing that
> you will have to live with a man you have not chosen, who is probably older
> than you are, who is not going to allow you to work, to go out of the house,"
> explained Rachel Wareham of L'Association Médicale Mondiale, or World Medical
> Association, an international physicians group.
> Self-immolation is a horrific act that often results in a slow, torturous
> death in hospital burn wards even as medical officials desperately struggle to
> save lives.
> Medical officials and journalists such as Stephanie Sinclair — who spent
> weeks photographing patients in a hospital burn ward in Herat — say there is a
> marked difference between patients of accidental burns and those who have
> attempted self-immolation.
> "In the burn ward, you can tell the self-immolation cases from the regular
> burn cases," said Sinclair, who was on assignment in western Afghanistan for
> Marie Claire magazine.
> A Life of Unending Drudgery
> One such case was Shakila Azizi, a 27-year-old woman who returned to her
> native Herat from Iran, where her family had gone to escape the Taliban.
> But when Azizi arrived in Herat, she had to live with her in-laws, Sinclair
> said. She found herself at the bottom of the family pecking order, forced to
> all the cooking and cleaning for the family.
> One morning, Azizi apparently complained to her in-laws about the way they
> were treating her, but she said they would not listen. In desperation, she
> into the kitchen, doused herself in kerosene and set herself on fire, Sinclair
> said. Doctors tried in vain to save her life, and the young woman suffered a
> torturous death. She leaves behind two small children.
> Making a Fatal Pact
> Khusboo and Heena said they had made a pact that if they could not escape the
> forced marriages, they would kill themselves.
> Luckily for the sisters, they heard of a women's shelter in Kabul and they
> decided to run away from home. Founded by Afghan women's rights activist Mary
> Akrami after the fall of the Taliban, the women's shelter is the only one of
> kind in Kabul. Its location is a secret, since Akrami says angry family
> members sometimes want to harm her or the women fleeing social and familial
> persecution.
> A Kabul native who fled the Taliban for Pakistan, Akrami returned to her
> homeland after performing years of social work in the destitute refugee camps
> Pakistan. But although the situation for women in Afghanistan has improved
> since the ouster of the Taliban, Akrami says there's still a long way to go.
> "Government and the [Afghan] constitution say that women have rights, but
> still I am not happy with this much rights we have for women," she said.
> Indeed, while the constitution, passed in 2003, recognizes basic women's
> rights, international rights groups such as Amnesty International have warned
> it fails to protect the rights of women. What's more, experts say there is a
> huge gap between the law and its enforcement is huge.
> But while Afghanistan is still trying to build its tattered judicial system,
> Khusboo and Heena's ability to escape forced marriages is testament to a
> nascent hope in a country that once had one of the world's worst records on
> rights.
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