A female rape victim jailed in Afghanistan was pardoned Friday. Initially, this only occurred after she agreed to marry her rapist however Afghan president Hamid Karzai released her with no preconditions. Gulnaz, now 21, has served two years of her 12 year sentence, and has given birth to a daughter resulting from her rape during that time.
Women being condemned for crimes that are out of their control is not a new phenomenon in Afghanistan. Retribution so called “crimes” committed by women can range from regular jailing and stoning, and has even gone as far as a suitor spraying acid over a family when they denied their daughter's hand in marriage.
In a short video produced by the BBC, Afghan parliament member Fawzia Koofi states that women do have more rights, yet it is still not enough. Koofi was once targeted by the Taliban, and she fears for her daughters who are growing up in that environment. Women aren't truly free, and many are too afraid to speak their opinion on political matters for fear of persecution. They have been deprived of agency for so long, and the current regime is only perpetuating that lack.
Karzai is supposedly anti-Taliban, but Gulnaz's jailing and conditional release bear no difference to Taliban rule. One of America’s goals in Afghanistan was to increase humanitarian efforts, specifically in regards to women. If the goals in Afghanistan were truly successful in creating a democratic society, women would have elevated in status rather than maintained status quo. This isn't a question of cultural precedence either; Islam is not inherently misogynist, though many Islamic extremist groups use religion as an excuse to continue their atrocious behavior. Democracy can't exist if part of the population is not allowed to participate, without fear. Removing barriers to female political participation and not allowing senseless prosecution would be great steps towards true democracy.
Making equality — race, gender, or socio-economic — a priority brings awareness to the problem and helps the oppressed find ways to transcend oppression. It is important that we try to rectify this situation in hopes of eliminating institutionalized violence against women. Since it was a U.S. goal to advance the state of women's rights in Afghanistan, part of the billions of dollars in aid we send annually should go to integrating women into society. Supporting humanitarian goals in Afghanistan will indeed give women agency to them, and bring them closer to the democracy they claim to desire.
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