Afghan women arrive for the Bagram women's shura, April 27. Members of 832nd Engineers Company, attached to 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Redhorse, of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Task Force Red Bulls, and the Women's Empowerment Team of the Kentucky Agribusiness Development Team III conducted a women's shura and a separate men's shura in Bagram, Afghanistan. (Photo by U.S. Army Pfc. Courtney Ropp, 55th Combat Camera)

No Justice for Rape Victims in Afghanistan

A few weeks ago a woman named Guldasta was raped by four armed men in Ghor Province of Afghanistan. While her rapists assaulted her,  four of their friends were guarding the woman’s house to prevent interventions. Days later, Guldasta’s family fought back and took the case to local authorities; however, either unwilling or unable, the government failed them in providing justice.

Unfortunately, rape happens everywhere, but what is particular about Afghanistan, and a few other countries, is that the vast majority of times, the raped, and not the rapist, is punished. This horrid phenomenon caught worldwide attention this week as authorities in UAE finally released a Norwegian woman who was arrested after reporting her sexual assault while on a business trip.

This happens in Afghanistan all the time. What’s worse is that beyond the immediate physical and emotional trauma comes a lasting social stigmatization of rape victims.

In Afghanistan when a woman is raped, rarely does a man agree to marry her because a woman is respected for her virginity and regardless of how her hymen is broken, she must be punished. In addition to that, if a woman who is raped become pregnant, it is likely that she will have to marry the man who savagely disrespected her soul and body. That is if she is lucky and not imprisoned by the government for “adultery” or has not committed suicide already. After getting married to her rapist, she must tolerate being raped- though according to Afghan law marital rape is not considered rape- every night until she dies or, sometimes self immolates. In addition to keeping her husband’s bed warm, she must wash, clean and cook for him, nourish his children, honor his family and guests, work on his barley fields and even care for his livestock without any pay.

Guldasta will forever be called “dishonorable (badnaam).” All her friends and relatives will whisper with pity, “poor thing. She has been dishonored.” Guldasta, not her rapists, will carry the title with her until she dies. Her husband and father will also be called “dishonored.” They will say, “their honor has been raped,” because she is considered their property and not an individual with her own honor and pride. Once she is raped her family has lost honor, too.

As for the rapists, their honor will remain intact. No one thinks of controlling the bodies and minds of the rapists. They will be treated as if their loss of control is natural and part of their manhood and male instincts. Men get angry and rape and they are not “dishonorable” and if they are imprisoned chances are they will be released in a few months.

After being raped, Guldasta will become a lesson to others. When families want to prevent their daughters from going outside, they will say, “If you go out, you will become another Guldasta.” People will stop their sons from standing up to warlords and rapists and warn, “Better remain silent or else your mother will have the same faith as Guldasta.”

Guldasta’s problem is not only the armed and powerful men who raped her and the government that failed in protecting her rights; it is a society in which being raped is a bigger shame that raping. Rape will not vanish until we have combated the culture of rape, which treats women only worthy for their virginity or because they are the honor and property of the men in the family. Rape will not decrease unless we learn to respect women, especially after they are raped.

The culture of rape will not end unless we learn to shame and dishonor “badnaam” the rapists, not the women they have raped.