Yes it is. We shouldn’t forget that a very limited number of violent incidents get reported so I think the scale of domestic violence could even be more than this estimate. The reason behind it is lack of education. Many women that I have met or spoken to are not aware of the fact that if they get beaten up by their husbands just for being late in cooking their meal – that this is a violent act. They don’t know they can report this as abuse. Many men have grown up in families who have placed more value on them than their sisters, or women of the family. Men are mostly the bread winners and women have no financial independence, it is because majority of them are uneducated. They marry at a young age; have no experience of what pregnancy is, no information about what is motherhood. They are young girls who are suddenly expected to be responsible wives, daughter in laws and mothers right after the wedding day.
Religious study is very limited. Very few women have information about what Islam says about women rights, very few men have the correct information about what Islam tells them about respect to women… so I think lack of education is the main issue.
2. Afghanistan has tragically experienced many years of war. How has the conflict affected women?
War has damaged every aspect of women’s life. According to United Nations studies, women and girls have been the main sufferers of the war and conflict. There are millions of war widows in Afghanistan, they live in extreme poverty, mothers have lost their sons in war, girls and women have been subject to rape by gun men, violence, kidnapping or forced marriages by powerful war lords.
Families have had to give away their girls instead of money because war has made them poor. Their security is in danger almost every minute of the day. They have lost limbs and arms in attacks and they have lost their households and children. And most importantly they have lost the chance to learn and get an education.
3. One of the women Shireejan that you have already mentioned from you book, was given to a family to settle a dispute, and as a consequence she experienced many years of abuse and violence at the hands of her in-laws. Is the practise of giving a daughter away to settle a dispute still common in some communities in Afghanistan?
Yes it is very common; the sad fact about women life is that, many of the women keep quiet about what happens in their lives, they are not able to stand up against the decision which elders make. Just recently a story of a young girl came to light who was the victim of the same practice. It is common across Afghanistan and it doesn’t belong to a specific tribe. It has been going on for many many years and stopping this would need a strong legal system which sadly we don’t have in Afghanistan.
4. Many people feel very disappointed that the BBC decided to decommission Afghan Women’s Hour. If you think it was reinstated, how do you think it would benefit the women of Afghanistan?
I think if the Afghan woman’s hour comes back on air, first of all I would believe that people really do care about life of my fellow women. Losing Afgan Women’s Hour has been a great loss. It was very sad for me. Something very dear to me was taken away. If it was reinstated women and girls would find an international platform to raise their voices once again, and women in rural areas like Shirenjan will be able to find stories of life, hope and to know about the younger generations. It will be a chance for them to learn and get correct and reliable information and advice. Without it, we have loss this.
5. How can we end violence against women for good?
I think it will take long time, but it starts and ends with education. By educating girls and giving women information about their rights we can move forward. Educating a young girl today means a family in the future.
An educated mother will know what is right and wrong for her children. By educating girls we can change the world.