A recent United Nations report detailed the prevalence of both sexual abuse and harassment suffered by women police officers – who make up roughly one percent of a 155,000 person force – in Afghanistan. Indeed, many of the women interviewed claimed that sexual harassment and sexual abuse was a serious problem within the police force. However, Ghulam Mujtaba Patang – the recently retired Minister of the Interior for Afghanistan – questioned these findings. He believed that if women police officers were really being sexually abused, they would have come forward and made formal complaints.
Female victims of sexual violence in Afghanistan are often shunned by their families. They are beaten, jailed, and sometimes even killed to avoid embarrassment to the family. It is clear, then, that the women can either suffer from sexual abuse and not tell anyone, or they can seek help, be shunned, and then possibly killed by their family while seeking help.
This report by the United Nations raises important questions about the status quo of women’s rights in Afghanistan. Obviously, if the treatment of women in the Afghanistan police force is not merely an aberration, but a prolific practice, whole scale changes will be needed. But just how those changes could be implemented is far from an easy answer, especially if this culture of abuse is wide spread.
Problems of this magnitude are not solved over night. Small steps are the building blocks to larger solutions. Maybe a start in the right direction would entail pressure from human and women’s rights groups from around the globe to bring the problem in the purview of the world community. Perhaps those apart of the governmental hierarchy in Afghanistan – if the problem is indeed widespread – could commence a constitutional convention that would at least begin the discussion of sexual abuse against woman within the country’s borders. While the answer to this problem may seem elusive, it is a problem that all people would most readily agree needs solving.
Sources: The New York Times; CNN
It is disheartening to hear that women in Afghanistan, who have already faced a history of oppression, are now experiencing sexual abuse in the workforce. The fact that Ghulam Mujtaba Patang said that if women police officers were really being abused they would have came forward is extremely ignorant. Especially since shame and family repercussions come with it. Also, their abusers are most likely their commanders and reporting their treatment would ultimately adversely affect their careers. The mindset of the Afghani government needs to change in order to come to terms with the fact that women’s rights in their country are being abused.
It is also interesting how the Afghani citizens view women who work in the police force. Many of them dislike the fact that the women are willing to work in a dominantly male environment, when the only men Afghani women are expected to associate with are within their families. However, most of these women justify their need to work because they are the only source of income in their families. The Afghani people, as well as their government, need to recognize the evolving role of women in their society.
While I understand the good will behind coming together and discussing women’s abuse and sexual assault, I do not believe it will bring about the desired result that everyone is intending. The entire world has issues regarding respecting the rights of women and while conferences addressing these issues are a step in the right direction, more has to be done to actually effectuate change.
First and foremost, countries have to stop looking at women as second class citizens and allow them the same rights and opportunities as men. This is potentially the biggest hurdle for the world to come over because many nations are riddled with cultural and traditional ideations of women that make women seem as lesser beings, unworthy of the respect of men. While up and coming generations could possibly be behind these ideas of respecting women, governments are run by older generations who are unable, or unwilling to initiate change.
Other steps that need to be taken are to put trust back in the system. Let women know that they can trust that their rapist will get justice and that the governments will pursue their rapists to the end of the world and beyond and that they will not give up. Let women know that they will be believed when they are sexually assaulted and instead of victim blaming they will put the blame on the man, who is too much of a coward to own up to his own sins, or for that matter, too much of a coward to get consent.
Unfortunately, the problem of women being treated like second class citizens in countries like Afghanistan is not only all too common but also a multifaceted issue. The women of these countries must deal with being sexually oppressed and have no form of redress. They suffer the oppression the suffer again when they cannot go to friends or family about it because the friends or family think these women are in the wrong for being employed in officer positions. The fact that there is no societal backing of women’s rights makes this issue a thousand times more complicated to solve.
A major step will have to be taken to forward the thinking of these communities so that it not only becomes more accepted for these women to take these types of jobs but also becomes somewhat of a norm. Of course, this is not something that will happen over the span of a day but rather may take years to fully occur. Additionally, there must be more international backing from women’s rights groups as my colleague, Isias, has pointed out. This backing will pressure these governments into providing some type of legal redress for women affected by this ignorant behavior. This in turn will allow the affected women to feel more comfortable with reporting such crimes, instead of suffering and keeping it to themselves. Again, this type of deeply rooted cultural behavior cannot be changed in a day. But this does not mean change cannot ever occur. It must occur or else women of these countries will continue to be treated as something less than human and this is a state no person should be put in.