Invisible facts; Afghan women are subject to violence and torture

She pretends as if she is sick and she is a cunning woman are those bitter words that make her feel the pain even deeper. The pain that makes Laila burst into tears. Her illness and weak body makes her suffer, but nobody believes she is sick.

Her family members call her ‘sterile, goner, or barren’ and most often label as ‘wicked, malicious’ and she endures countless other badmouthings.

“I have three daughters, two of my children died before their births when I was pregnant, but then again the family calls me infertile. They keep pressuring my husband to marry a second wife. Who should I tell my story to?” says Laila with sorrow. “I am tired of all this taunting and scoffing,” she adds.

Zohra, a divorced woman who says Afghan society looks upon as a ‘prostitute’

Deeply patriarchic and tribal, most Afghan families prefer boys over girls. In tribal minds of the Afghan families, boys are seen as future source of income and power in tribal relationship.       

In a recent report, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission(AIHRC) has stated that out of 2762 cases of violence against women in the first seven months of 1398 (solar year), 1041 of them have been verbal or psychological abuse.

Laila is not the only woman who has been enduring psychological abuse. Zohra, a nom de guerre, is another victim of domestic violence. Ms. Zohra says she has gone through bone-shaking painful experiences.  She says she had loved her husband but could not stand his violent behavior with their children.

Zohra has separated from her husband just to save her children from a violent father. Now that she is a divorced woman, Zohra says the Afghan society looks upon her as a ‘prostitute’. She laments how the society misjudges her position and degrades her human dignity.        

A long silence follows and drops of tears speak her minds and hearts. Zohra was just a seventh grader when she was forced to get marriage. Having no idea about what marriage was, she now recalls that fancy clothes tempted her to get married with a ‘greedy’ man who wanted to receive inheritance after their marriage.     

A report published by Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) shows that over 97 percent of cases of violence against women are committed by family members. The report suggests that families are the most insecure place for women in Afghanistan.

Psychological violence

Afghanistan is a country where violence against women and children is rampant. Women rights activists believe that violence against women is a social phenomenon which is less debated by academia.   

Rohullah Rezwani, a psychiatrist in Kabul, says psychological violence damages one’s dignity, self-esteem and pride. Such behaviors are exercised in the forms of irrational criticizing, humiliating, cursing, sniggering, insulting, taunting, accusing, etc.

Jamila Azizi, a lawyer, says violence against women is not just physical—a face with bruises, broken arms or cut nose—there are times when women are forced to behave against their will. “I know a divorced woman who was divorced due to violence and then married again because of the pressure by the community. She still suffers violence, but chooses to tolerate that for the sake of her family,” Ms. Azizi says.  

Jamila Azizi, a lawyer

She states verbal and psychological violence are far worse than physical violence, “Physical violence is visible and can be cured instantly, but verbal and psychological violence sadden people—especially women—which causes depression, suicide or even setting oneself on fire.”

Mr. Rezwani says verbal and psychological abuses which are commonly committed in our society, remain invisible to most people. He stresses that psychological abuse causes victims to suffer more from impacts of violence.

Statistics published by the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) shows nearly 70 percent of the population—especially women—suffer from psychological violence.

Bashir Sarwari, director of mental health unit at the MoPH, told Kabul Now that mental illnesses are on the rise and women are more vulnerable to mental illness. Sarwari says war and conflict coupled with domestic violence make Afghan women subject to mental illnesses.   

Report by the AIHRC shows that 1041 cases of verbal and psychological abuse against women have been registered just in the first seven months of 1398. This counts for 37.7 percent of all cases of violence against women. 

Invisible violence

Psychological violence is yet an invisible form of violence commonly committed by majority of Afghan families. Afghan families commit domestic violence on daily basis often with an impunity granted by the society’s tradition and culture. In traditional Afghan culture, women are seen as family members to serve traditional pride and dignity of families.    

Rohullah Rezwani, a psychiatrist in Kabul

Rezwani says strict traditions and social norms, which give freedom to men at the cost of women subjugation, will backfire and keep the cycle of violence move and take more victims.  

Many activists and psychologists are of the opinion that awareness campaign is the only way to fight violence against women. They say all sectors of society—the academia, teachers, journalists and influential public figures– should join hands to launch a campaign against this old social phenomenon.