Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, October 22nd, 2018

Harassment of Women, Hidden Violence in Afghanistan

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Harassment of Women, Hidden Violence in Afghanistan

Sexual harassment of women in Afghanistan has always been a hidden challenge, but due to the traditional and patriarchal (man-led) structures of the Afghan community and the institutionalization of harassment, the women seal their mouths and silently tolerate the harassment. Revealing such cases and filing a formal petition is considered a disgrace (shame) and causes society to question the dignity and honor of women in Afghanistan.
Harassment of women is tolerated in society and the relevant authorities do not take such cases seriously which has created many challenges for women in Afghanistan including dispossession of individual liberties, violations of women’s fundamental rights, abuse and rape of women.
One of the most common forms of harassment is catcalling women on the streets and bazar, which is an immediate violation of the dignity of women. If the men persist on doing this, it is the woman who loses her individual and social liberty including her mobility to leave the home. Inappropriate treatment and harassment have a profound psychological impact on women, not only making their work and presence in society challenging, but over time, it undermines their character, self-esteem and confidence insocial activities.
Harassment is a deplorable social action against women thatis not limited to public places but includes work places, educational places, sports facilities and their own homes. A report published by the Women’s Affairs Ministry in 2016 considers harassment of women as the third most important factor in women’s under-representation in institutions. According to the report, most women do not dare to complain and prefer to remain silent when they are harassed, fearing the loss of their job or harm to their dignity. In a recent report published by the Women and Children Research Institute in 2015, 90% of interviewed women were harassed at least once in public, 87% were sexually harassed at work place and 91% experienced it in educational facilities. Similarly, a smaller research project conducted in the Daikondy Province by the Organization for the Development of Youth, shows that 85% of the 115 women interviewed suffered sexual harassment in their lives.
Sexual harassment of women in justice and judicial organizations is another serious concern of women’s rights activists and officials in this sector. Latifah Sultani, the head of the Women’s Rights office at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said in an interview: “The cases of harassment of women prisoners by judges, in Badambagh Women’s Prison, have been registered with the AIHRC.” Convicted women in an interview with the AWPR also stated that detainees were harassed by police officers and judicial authorities. Zahra(pseudonym), who was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment and had been detained in the Badambagh Women’s Prison, said: “On the way to the police station, police officers touched parts of my body in the car and when we reached the police station, one of the officers asked me to go to his room and I warned them that I would scream and shout if they tried to approach me. She continued that they were like hungry wolves, and I stayed up all night until they transferred me to Kabul police headquarters in the morning.”Meanwhile, many attempts have been made to recruit female officers for the sake of women prisoners and suspects, but these attempts have been less impactful, because there are only a small number of female officers within the police force. In addition, female prisoners have no means to document the sexual abuse or raise evidence based complaints. As there is nobody to testify to the act of harassment.
The question is, are the actions that have been undertaken by the active governmental, national and international institutions in this sector able to solve the challenges of women who are struggling daily with persecution and harassment? It is obvious that the answer is No. Although the current government’s efforts to criminalize sexual harassment are promising, nevertheless, enforcement and the rule of law are a serious concern for the people of Afghanistan. The enforcement of the Law on Elimination of Violence againstWomen (EVAW) in 2009, Law on Anti-harassment of Women and Children in 2017 and the new penal code in 2018, are among the measures that could ensurethe serious consideration of cases of sexual harassment of women toa certain extent in Afghanistan. The EWAV law is the first law to criminalize harassment of women, in Article 3 it defines the harassment of women as follows: “Use of any words or performance of any act that causes damage to personality, mind, or body of a woman.”The perpetrator shall be sentenced to 3 up to 12 months of imprisonment in accordance with Article 30 of the same law, depending on the aggravation and mitigation degree of the offence.
Likewise, the Law on Anti- Sexual Harassment of Women and Children, in the 3 chapters and 29 articles (recently provided for adoption by the President) has defined sexual harassment in Article 3 as follows:“Harassment is physical contact,illicit demand, verbal and non-verbal molestation, or any activity that causes physical, psychological harm, and insulting human dignity of the woman and the child.” According to the definition of harassment set forth in this law, sexual harassment is divided in three main categories:1) physical persecution, defined as:“Touching the body of the woman and the child, deliberately, intended to slightly harm or damage the body of the woman and the child.”2) Verbal harassment defined as: “Using words, sentences, jokes and immoral humor and descriptions of the body, behavior or clothing and telephone interruptions that harm the woman’s and the child’s health and safety.”3)Non-verbal abuse defined as: “To display (exhibit) offensive images or offensive content in relation to sexual issues in the media and social networks or via emailing, photo shoot, publish, or broadcast the film of a woman or family, etc., by any means that causes damage to the personality of the woman and child and their mental health.”
Also, in accordance with Articles 17 and 18 of this Law, the victim of harassment herself or her relatives or her legal representative can file their complaints in writing to the Committee on Anti-harassment of Women and Children in the relevant institution or to the Offices, Police, and Courts, Provincial or Districts Councils or other authorities. In addition, the law foresees punishment for perpetrators of harassment in Articles 24 to 27. If the offense of harassment occursin public places and premises, public transportation or any other place, the perpetrator will be fined from 5,000 to 10,000 Afghanis.If theoffence takes place at a work station, learning and educational center or health center, the perpetrator shall be sentenced to pay from 10,000 to 20,000 Afghanis and shall be sentenced to three to six months’ imprisonment, considering circumstancesin aggravating condensation.
In terms of legislation, this law is not free from defects and in some cases it is at the expense of women, and also due to traditional structures and extremist mentalities, we are still facing many challenges in the implementation of the Law on Elimination of Violence AgainstWomen. However, such laws can be a good valve of hope for the elimination of violence against women, especially the sexual harassment of women in Afghanistan.
The challenge is whether or not women will have adequate, or even any, access to these anti-harassment support systems and mechanisms because the relevant institutions failure to take these cases seriously and, in many instances, even harboring of  hatred against the victims,  may make the victims access to these services impossible.

The author is the emerging writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at farihaeasar@googlemail.com

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