Broken record

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

With the risk of (happily) sounding like a broken record, I want to again talk about women’s rights or lack thereof in Afghanistan.

The Afghan government is thinking about bringing back death by stoning as capital punishment for adultery. Human Rights Watch calls on the Afghan government to immediately reject the proposal by the Justice Ministry. A working group led by this Ministry of Justice that is assisting in drafting a new penal code has proposed provisions on “moral crimes” involving sex outside of marriage that call for stoning.

Stoning was used as a punishment for adultery during the Taliban era who were in power from the mid-1990s until 2001.  After the fall of the Taliban, the Afghan government quickly signed on to international human rights conventions and to respect human and women’s right. This is not to say that barbaric practices like stoning have been banished completely in the country though.

Yesterday on the informative news programme Terzake,(WARNING: really schocking images ) you could see footage of a young woman and man, accused of adultery, being stoned in Kunduz in 2010.  This doesn’t happen frequently, but my experience last year in Afghanistan was that the situation is much worse then we in the West think. While I was traveling with Parliament member Fawzia Koofi, we heard about a woman being executed by Taliban in a village a few dozen miles outside Kabul.  Conservatism is the rule and most women still can’t go outside without their burqa (both in rural areas as in the capital Kabul)

My work didn’t seem exotic enough and somehow people told me they had seen it all already before. Well… but sadly this is the reality on the ground in Afghanistan. It’s not about a bowling alley or an internet café in Kabul for the mostly Western expats and a few modern educated Afghans. It’s not about a young female graffiti artist that in reality can’t even go on the streets to spray her art on walls all over Kabul. Don’t get me wrong, these wonderful initiatives are great and important. Young women like Noorjahan Akbar and Shamsia Hassani are amazing and incredibly inspirational because they literally take to the foreground and risk their lives and safety by speaking out and fighting for more rights. But sadly it’s still a minority in a mainly conservative and very traditional country.

I’ve visited the female prison in Faizabad, where women are jailed for so called ‘moral crimes’… Locked up because they ran away from their abusive husbands or accused of adultery like the woman in the photo  below.

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

I spoke to a young girl, that ran away from home twice because her uncle tried to force her to marry his son. In a country like Afghanistan, this girl was an exception, not for what happened to her, but for being able to escape and find security in a women’s shelter. Imagine the incredible strength she must have to leave everything and everyone behind in a society like hers.

We, as Western media, need to keep being responsible and show the reality on the ground, not just what we think is hip or what we think our Western public wants to see. We need to keep our audiences informed and bring more depth and nuance into our stories. I understand our governments want to find ways to show and justify the huge amounts of money that have been spent since the fall of the Taliban and want us to believe, by using us as the Media,  that Afghanistan is doing so well that we can leave the country on it’s own and things will work out fine. But it’s not a fairy tale like that and when we hear news like wanting to bring back stoning as a punishment, it makes me fearful especially for some of the girls and women over there that I had the incredible honor to meet.


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