In most countries around the world, women face violence. But what we have in Afghanistan is quite different from what women confront in other countries because of the widespread lack of acceptance of women by men.

Fathers, brothers, brothers-in-law, cousins or nephews are the ones who often decide a woman’s destiny. This practice itself is torture for a woman who must accept orders from different men in a family.

Violence against women comes in many shapes and disguises. Some violence is cultural. Take laughter for example. Everyone enjoys laughing, but in Afghan society women cannot laugh in front of men, not even at a family gathering. If a woman laughs loudly she will be insulted verbally and sometimes she will be hit.

In marriage, girls and women, including widows, usually are not permitted to choose their marriage partner. Men in the family choose the partner for their daughters and sisters. Even mothers who dedicated their lives to their children are sometimes not allowed in the marriage discussion. For a widow, this can become exceptionally difficult because men will decide whether or not to force her to marry with her deceased husband’s brother. Sometimes if there is no available single brother-in-law, the men will marry her to someone else, sometimes a younger man. In other families, she will not be allowed to remarry at all, but she will have to spend her life alone.

Education is the right of every man and woman, and this is made clear in Islam. All women are as thirsty as men for education, but in some provinces men decide whether their daughter should go to school or not. Mostly, men prefer their sons go to school because they see men as the breadwinners. In many families, girls cannot attend school due to security problems caused by men who oppose educated women. Women are killed, kidnapped, burned, or have acid poured on them by men who don’t want women to be educated.

Who Interprets Islam?

Afghan women face a common problem in which mostly men misinterpret Islam for their own benefit. They claim something is written in the Holy Qur’an. Our women who cannot read are not well informed about what is written in our Qur’an, especially the things that support women and would remove restrictions imposed by men.

Then we have physical violence. Decision-making is the property of men in every aspect of life. If a woman says, “we work, we raise our children, we want our daughters to study, go to school and don’t marry at young age,” she will face physical violence. She can be hit, imprisoned in the house, and not allowed outside or sent back to her father’s house. Some women will try committing suicide, escaping, or asking for divorce. In some families, the woman’s family, her father, brother, and cousin and uncles, may reject her request, beat her and send her back to her husband.

Mostly women are not allowed to spend their own money. It doesn’t matter if women work or not, the men decide how money should be spent and if a woman argues she will face physical violence.

In some families, a married man can have relations with other women and marry additional wives. His wife is not allowed to say anything about it. If she complains, she will face insults and warnings, be hit, or sometimes her husband will keep her at home and not allow her to go out.

In a country with as many different cultures, customs, and beliefs as Afghanistan, I think the best solution to ending violence against women is education. Through education both men and women would be able to have better understanding of our Islam religion and how to practice it.

By Asma