Afghanistan needs to do ‘much more’ for women’s rights- the case of Furkhanda.

By Anahita Hossein-Pour, Staff Writer 

The Human Rights director of the UN’s Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) stated in an interview released this week that the government needed to do ‘much more’ to crackdown on the violence against women in Afghanistan. 

With 2015 seeing the case of Furkhunda, Georgette Gagnon stated this event did not see ‘proper, prompt justice,’ and there are many serious issues for women’s rights the government need to address. The outrageous, unjustifiable crime against 27 year old Farkhunda earlier this year has brought attention worldwide on the severity of women’s treatment and position within Afghan society. 

Over false claims of her burning the Holy Quran, a mob of men beat and burnt Furkhanda, and filmed it on their mobile phones. The 49 men were trialled last month, resulting in 22 convictions- 10 of which were police officers and 4 civilian death sentences. This has been met with mixed reaction. 

Kimberley Motley, the US lawyer who represented Furkhanda’s family at the beginning of the case, expressed how the police convictions signified ‘Afghanistan has taken its first step in showing it understands the need to protect and value its women.’ The officers were charged for failing to protect Furkhanda. 

Whilst this can be seen as a small triumph out of this horrific case, the Afghan government needs to take this understanding further and strongly implement the protection of women against violence in a society where these actions are all too common. The Afghan Women’s Network (AWN) have rejected the outcome of the trial. They have stated that failing to convict the other police officers brought to trial could lead to future carelessness in their responsibilities. They have also questioned the court’s decision for ignoring high ranking police officials’ responsibility in the tragedy, who failed to take immediate action. They are one amongst many who have rightly questioned this action, and alongside them, IWI supports the calls for meaningful change and action to be taken regarding the case of Furkhanda to ensure no other woman will face the same fate. 

Furkhanda’s brother, Mujibullah has spoken to the press over the family’s anger towards the leniency of the courts with 22 convicted out of the 49 involved. The case has sparked stronger calls for women’s rights from inside and outside of Afghanistan. More crucially, Afghan women have defiantly responded with demonstrations at the site of the crime, or what is now known as ‘Furkhanda Street.’ At the funeral, Furkhanda’s coffin was carried by women, replacing the men who traditionally carry out this role. 

Not only as a Muslim but a religious teacher, Furkhanda was denied an Islamic ceremony at her grave, adding further injustice to the already unacceptable treatment of an ordinary, innocent woman. 

Afghanistan’s landmark law on the Elimination of Violence against Women implemented in 2009, failed to grant Furkhanda her right to security. The controversial nature of the convictions also gives reason to remain sceptical over the extent women’s rights are truly secured and valued. The UNAMA’s April 2015 report stresses Afghanistan’s membership to the Convention of Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and IWI calls on Afghanistan to ensure its proper and full adherence to this convention, to effectively safeguard women from the prevalent violence, prejudice and discrimination towards them.

IWI supports the women of Afghanistan in their demand for gender equality and hopes Furkhanda’s case will bring a new precedence to protect women in the future. Whilst a harsher line could have been taken in the convictions, the sentencing of those who took a passive role in the crime implicates an advancement towards setting a moral obligation of citizens, to ensure women’s right to security is respected in Afghan society. 

The government needs to ensure this establishes meaningful, long term commitment to progressing women’s rights, but it is clear more than judicial progression is needed to raise the status of women in Afghanistan.