4 Oct 2013

Making Unreported World: Afghanistan’s hunted women

The mere thought of my little girl getting hurt makes me wince. So listening to a young Kabul woman in Kabul describe how her father stabbed her 16 times because she refused to marry the man he’d chosen is an unsettling experience

My little girl is eight years old and has me wrapped around her little finger. Like most parents around the world I try as hard as I can to make her life as good as it can be and in truth she is very cosseted.  The mere thought of her scraping her knee or facing playground unkindness makes me wince.

So listening to a young woman in Kabul describe how her father stabbed her 16 times, slashed her throat and left her for dead because she refused to marry the man he’d chosen is an unsettling experience. I was in Afghanistan for Unreported World  making a film about how some fathers and husbands treat their daughters and wives.

There is all sorts of cultural history and religious pressure to explain how women have been deprived basic rights in Afghanistan. But this kind of violence? I can’t pretend to understand how anyone can do it, but the voices of the survivors are compelling.

Asking victims of violence and abuse to recount what happened to them is a grim and conflicted thing to do. As a reporter you want their story in detail to communicate to the world what is going on. As a human being you feel abusive asking them to even think about it again.

But all the women (and many are really just girls in their mid-teens) I sp0ke to had taken an informed decision to tell their stories. They want the world to know the truth, as the West boasts about the great leaps in women’s rights that followed the invasion of 2001 and expulsion of the Taliban from government.

So they invited us in. Though viewers should also bear in mind the video inside the secret shelters can be misleading. It isn’t possible for me to enter such a place without changing it. The women wouldn’t normally be covering their heads with scarves, for example.

Sahar Gul, who also features in the programme, is the poster girl for violence against women in Afghanistan, but a reluctant one. She didn’t have a choice when her story was told around the world with shocking images of her rescue from torture and sexual abuse by her in-laws.

But she knows the power of her story and cooperates with the media now, albeit with difficulty. She is nervous and rocks to and fro as she sits. Those who care for her at the Women for Afghan Women shelter in Kabul say she often gets upset, and it is no wonder given the abuse she endured from the age of twelve. And the system she is still fighting in order to get justice.

This week Sahar Gul was back in court trying to get her abusers rearrested. They were released a few weeks ago after a year and half behind bars, despite an original sentence of 15 years.

Now, with the help of a dynamic American lawyer called Kimberley Motley, she’s challenging that appeal. Kimberley emailed me this week to describe a remarkable two hours in court. The judges suggested Sahar Gul had tried to prostitute herself. She furiously denied it. They suggested a report from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs said the teenager would be better off going back to her abusive husband than staying in a shelter. She argued she did not want to die, and so would not be going back.

They questioned the medical evidence that Sahar Gul had suffered a broken arm. She argued that she may not have documentary evidence of the broken arm but there are images which leave no doubt that she was burned, stabbed, had fingernails ripped out, hair pulled out and lips, eyes and ears cut. And a black eye. The judges reserved decision until next week. We’ll keep you posted.

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