The title of this blog post is not a mistake – a plea to pardon the rape victim. A 21-year old Afghan woman, Gulnaz, was raped several years ago by her cousin’s husband. Because her attacker was married at the time of the rape, Gulnaz was accused and jailed for committing adultery. She did not report the incident to police initially because she was scared of backlash from Afghanistan’s conservative population. When she became pregnant with her rapist’s child, she reported the rape to police. In addition to being convicted of committing adultery, she also committed the offense of failing to report the rape quickly enough to law enforcement officials. Gulnaz is currently raising her daughter in prison. She now faces a choice – either continue to serve her sentence or marry her rapist to legitimize her child. On Sunday, a petition was delivered to the palace with a request that the president immediately power Gulnaz. Whether or not the Afghan president decides to grant clemency, an issue still remains. Cases like Gulnaz’s are unfortunately common in Afghanistan. How do we help rape victims in Afghanistan? How do we attempt to have backwards laws in Afghanistan changed?
Unfortunately, cases like Gulnaz’s are not just common to Afghanistan, but in many countries under Islamic Law (Shari’a). Under Islamic law, a rape can only be proven if the rapist confesses or if there are four male witnesses. This Catch-22 is particularly a problem in Darfur, where the UN and the International Criminal Court are particularly interested in prosecuting these crimes outside the national legal framework, but are unable to when the victims are unwilling to come forward. They’ve made a concerted effort to have numbers of female peacekeepers and police officers available to speak to women, and peace agreements signed in the wake of the worst of the violence in Darfur guarantee rights and safety to women.
You’ve pointed out how do we help rape victims in Afghanistan, rather than hoping for internal change; we do have a significant presence in the country, obviously, and it does not seem that interest groups are ignoring this opportunity for change. A quick Google search revealed that the U.S Institute of Peace [http://www.usip.org/programs/projects/rule-law-afghanistan] has been focused on the rule of law in Afghanistan, most recently releasing a memo created in consultation with Afghani women on how to make Shari’a law more progressive with respect to women. Regrettably, it does not seem that change is coming fast enough to prevent cases like Gulnaz’s, however. I hope that she is pardoned.
I too saw this in the news. I could not believe this woman was thrown in prison for refusing to marry her rapist. I have always thought it important to respect other countries customs and policies, but this is ridiculous. Awhile back I remember reading a story about an Afghanistan father beating his daughter to death for disrespecting the family because she was raped. Liz asked a great question…what can we do? With the tensions between the U.S. and the Middle East, unfortunately, there is not much more we can do to help them see how their society could be different. It is also very clear that our societal values are extremely different and they are reluctant to change. In the U.S. rape victims struggle all the time to have the courage to come forward, even without such harsh repercussions. The best we can do it try to help the woman in Afghanistan fight for their rights. Unfortunately, until the Afghani women have a voice, this type of mistreatment is not likely to end. The problem is that the suppression of women is so deeply rooted in their religion and culture.