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By the end of next year, 40,000 U.S. troops will be out of Afghanistan, but the battle to save some of the country's most abused victims has barely begun. Just consider this heartwrenching example of what's happened there this week: A 19-year-old Afghan woman, who goes by the name Gulnaz, was imprisoned for adultery for more than two years, after she reported that she had been raped and impregnated by a cousin. (She gave birth to the child in jail.) Yesterday, faced with pressure from a grass-roots movement that began after Gulnaz was featured in a recent documentary film, the Afghan government announced the young woman's release from jail ... with one caveat: She has to marry her rapist.
Sadly, Gulnaz's story isn't an anomaly -- almost half of the country's female prisoners are in jail for similar situations, chalked up to Afghan "cultural practices."
The idea that this blatant abuse of women is happening -- repeatedly! -- in our world in the 21st century is sick and unfathomable enough. But what makes it even worse is that our forces are turning a blind eye, when they could at least be attempting to advance women's rights there.
Along with other Western forces -- perhaps with the help of the U.N.? -- we should be doing more to aid Afghan women. Gulnaz herself has actually received assistance from filmmaker Clementine Malpas, who shot the documentary (called In-Justice: The Story of Afghan Women in Jail) that started the movement to free Gulnaz, and an American lawyer named Kimberley Motley, who took on Gulnaz's case pro bono. And the two women have tried to get Gulnaz to go to a shelter, but as of right now, she feels forced to adhere to Afghan cultural norms. Malpas explained:
Gulnaz said, "My rapist has destroyed my future. No one will marry me after what he has done to me. So I must marry my rapist for my child’s sake. I don’t want people to call her a bastard and abuse my brothers. My brothers won’t have honor in our society until he marries me."
Ugh! Obviously, given the social, cultural, and political forces at work in Afghanistan to keep women oppressed, addressing their basic human rights is a seemingly hopeless job. One that even the Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai can't get a hold on. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be trying. The U.S. and other countries that value human rights must pressure Karzai and the Afghan government, holding them accountable for these atrocities. For starters, how about making sure they start throwing the rapists themselves in jail -- not the victims! It's not impossible -- after all, human rights groups who petitioned for Gulnaz's release from jail succeeded. The next step is going to take looking beyond jail cells and targeting the sentences women are forced to serve, simply by living in Afghan society.
What do you make of Gulnaz's case and women like her? Do you think the U.S. could be doing more to help them?
Image via Afghanistan Matters/Fickr