A Desperate Situation in Afghanistan
In rural Afghanistan, women are setting
themselves on fire. They see no other way out. They are
desperately poor, they have no rights, they are abused not only by their
husbands but by their in-laws. Their own families will not protect
them. Any effort to escape their abusers brings dishonor on their
Do a web search. You will find
this isn’t a new story. I have found stories about the rise
of this tragedy that are almost five years old. Yet it continues
and the number of women brought in with self-inflicted burns (or whose
burns are reported to be self-inflicted) is growing – up by
thirty percent from last year in Herat.
I have hosted 51% The Women’s Perspective for three years, but I have never heard a
response to any show as strong as the one to my interview with
Rachel Reid of Human
Rights Watch .
“I was listening in the car,” one
man I know told me when I ran into him in a store (I’m always surprised
how many men listen to a women’s issues show). “I sat in my driveway
and listened until it was over. I couldn’t leave.”
I met a woman who told me that interview
inspired her to get involved in efforts to help Afghan women. “I’ve never done anything like
this before,” she said. “But I can’t know this is happening
and do nothing.”
I understand. That’s how I
felt after I read an article in a December issue of the New York Times. Until then, I didn’t know.
After reading, I couldn’t forget.
No matter how poor these women are,
they have matches and cooking fuel. And these are the tools they
use to attempt to escape the hopelessness of their lives.
Rachel Reid researches violence against
women for Human Rights Watch. She said it is often a very small
thing, a social gaffe, a hurtful remark, that becomes the last straw
for women whose lives have been just barely endurable. And even
if most of them don’t die immediately, most of them do eventually
die of complications because of the limitations of health care in rural
Afghanistan. If they don’t die, their lives become worse.
Their families may refuse to take them back. They become pariahs.
These are women with no choices.
There are few choices for most women in Afghanistan. They are
discouraged from getting an education. They should not expect
to choose who or if they will marry. Many women who do try to
work are threatened. Human Rights Watch obtained a copy of what are known in Afghanistan as “night
letters” – threatening letters left at work or school under cover
"We Taliban warn you to stop
working for the government otherwise we will take your life away. We
will kill you in such a harsh way that no woman has so far been killed
in that manner. This will be a good lesson for those women like you
who are working."
The woman government employee who got
that letter in February of 2010 quit her job. Women who have ignored
night letters have died.
State Department says it
considers advancing the rights of Afghan women and girls a priority.
Womens ENews editor Corinna Barnard
recently reported that a strategic investigation of the State
Department documents included in the WikiLeaks release doesn’t support
And women in Afghanistan are burning.
You can hear the show featuring Rachel
Reid of Human Rights watch in its entirety here.
Human Rights Watch has also posted its own interview with Reid.
BACK TO "BEHIND THE STORIES" MAIN PAGE
Barnett is the producer and host of 51%
The Women’s Perspective,
a weekly women’s issues radio show carried nationally on NPR,
ABC and Armed Forces Radio stations. 51% The Women’s Perspective
is part of WAMC
- Northeast Public Radio's national productions. "The View From Outside," Susan Barnett's new collection of short fiction, is available in eBook format at Amazon and Barnes and Noble through Hen House Press. You can connect with her on Facebook.
Photo by DB Leonard.