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Pardon for Afghan rape victim may not be a happy ending

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Originally published in The Pryer on 04/12/2011


Pardoned: Gulnaz has been released from prison without any conditions

In 2010, the world was outraged over the fate of an Iranian woman who had been convicted of adultery and was awaiting a sentence of death by stoning. Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was fortunate enough have her sentence “suspended” thanks to human rights groups and media frenzy.

Another woman has dominated the international news this year – Gulnaz, a 19-year-old Afghan woman who was raped by her husband’s cousin and then jailed and sentenced to twelve years in prison for refusing to marry her rapist.On Thursday, President Hamid Karzai pardoned her, which means that there are no conditions for her release.

However, in Afghanistan, tradition and local solutions come before the law. It is highly likely Gulnaz will bow into pressure and marry her rapist, who is also serving a jail sentence. “Once I am out of here, I have no choice but to go back to the person who raped me,” she said before her pardon. “My life is over. I have no choice but to marry him.”

The fact that she had a daughter as a result of the rape will compel her even more towards this decision. Women who are raped in this part of the world are often looked down on by society and, if they were virgins, told that no one would ever marry them as they are considered ‘damaged goods’. The fate of such women is often reduced to becoming a second wife of a much older man or marrying their rapist.

Gulnaz also said that if she were to marry her rapist she would demand that he make one of his sisters marry one of her brothers. This is a common practise, not just in Afghanistan but in many other surrounding countries, as a way of settling disputes among families and communities. In this case it would be an insurance policy for Gulnaz since her rapist would hesitate to hurt her because his sister would be at the mercy of Gulnaz’s brother.

Although Gulnaz is now ‘free’ 600 women and their children stay behind bars in Afghanistan for similar ‘moral crimes’. Moral crimes include adultery (or being accused of it), running away from home or an abusive husband and murder-by-proxy, where a male family member kills someone and a woman is blamed.


Tradition: Afghan women’s first priorities are to get married, often to men decades older

There are no easy or quick solutions to problems that deep-rooted in a society. We can sit here and point fingers and condemn Afghans as ‘barbaric’ but let us be honest: we are just as guilty of the same mentality.

Remember the law which was passed in 2009 in Afghanistan, allowing a husband to starve his wife if she refused to have sex with him? How we were outraged! Yet in 2010, a UK survey showed almost three quarters of the women who were polled said if a victim got into bed with the assailant before an attack they should accept some responsibility. Even in this survey a third of Britons believe a woman who acts flirtatiously is partly or completely to blame for being raped, while one in five think a woman is partly to blame if it is known she has many sexual partners. Clearly we have sympathy for Afghan rape victims, but not much for our own. This is not an Afghan problem, it’s a global problem.

As Jon Stewart once joked on the Daily Show, Afghanistan hasn’t been stable since Hannibal. Gulnaz’s case has demonstrated that while international pressure and diplomacy coupled with human rights groups can certainly push for change, they only make a small dent in the great scheme of things.

There is still the belief that a woman is respectable only if she is embedded within a family, even if that family is abusive. Afghanistan can introduce as many laws as it wishes but that will make very little difference to the ordinary people in the rural areas who still solve disputes internally, where women are often too scared to report crimes.

The problem we make sometimes is judging Afghanistan by our (Western) standards and there is a danger of imposing our beliefs and customs on to the people. It took half a century for women to be granted the right to vote in the UK; similarly in Afghanistan there is no ‘quick-fix’.

Change comes gradually and with the consent of the people, starting at the grass roots level. Gulnaz was spared 12 years’ imprisonment, but she will swap one prison for another should she choose to marry her rapist. And there are thousands more Gulnaz’s in Afghanistan who still await justice.


Written by Iram Ramzan

December 4, 2011 at 3:00 pm

One Response

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  1. Good way of explaining, and good post to get data about my presentation subject,
    which i am going to convey in institution of higher education.


    June 14, 2014 at 5:31 am

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