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Afghan minister: Old customs impede women's rights

Afghan minister: Old customs impede women's rights

Repressive customs like forced marriages and the trading of women as currency are too strong in much of Afghanistan to be changed by the legal system, the country's women affairs minister warned Wednesday.
"Afghan women are facing unacceptable customs from decades ago that are just obeyed. These traditions don't have any religious or legal basis, but the people accept them," Hasin Banu Ghazanfar told The Associated Press in an interview.
The people of Afghanistan have become much more willing to talk about violence against women in this conservative, patriarchal society in recent years, as more accounts have surfaced in the press and rights groups have launched campaigns. Still, prosecutions and jail sentences often lag far behind public outcry.
Ghazanfar said a handful of practices are so ingrained in the more rural areas that even campaigns that enlist local clerics to talk about women's rights have little effect. She pointed out three customs in particular: the marrying of underage girls off against their will, families trading daughters to marry each others' sons, and families making amends for a killing or a crime by handing over a female relative to the victim's family.
Though such practices are illegal according to Afghan and Islamic laws, Deputy Justice Minister Mohammad Qasim Hashimzai confirmed that local tradition often trumps legislation.
"In remote areas, elders decide when a girl is mature according to traditional laws," he said.
Ghazanfar argued that the problem is the entrenched, if false, belief that these customs are connected to religion.
"The people cannot tell the difference between what is part of their religion and what is not," she said, explaining that in areas with little education and low literacy, traditional practice becomes law.
Some of the confusion comes from recent history. When the hard-line Taliban regime ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, they invoked Islam to require women to wear body-covering burqas in public and ban them from leaving home without a male relative as an escort.
Ghazanfar said progress was being made in some areas of women's rights _ noting that rape victims are increasingly coming out against their assailants and the courts are prosecuting more cases. Of 117 rape cases brought in the past 10 months in Afghanistan, 86 defendants have been found guilty and sentenced, according to ministry statistics. The remainder of the cases are ongoing.
Many more rapes are thought to occur, however, than are ever prosecuted. The high conviction record reflects the fact that only the most solid of cases reaches the courtroom.


Updated : 2020-12-06 08:40 GMT+08:00