Two days before the Persian New Year, in broad daylight, a young Afghan woman lay lifeless on the ground, her face covered in blood. She was lynched by a mob of men, not in the remote outskirts of the country, but in the capital.
In the heart of Kabul, not too far from the president’s palace, on March 19, 2015, Farkhunda Malikzada was beaten to death. A witness at the time told The New York Times, that her attackers “were like kids playing with a sack of flour on the floor.”
The crowd threw punches, stones, and sticks at her. Then, they ran a car over her body and set her on fire while more than a dozen policemen stood by.
Five years on, the Afghan government has failed to bring all of the perpetrators of that attack to justice. Afghanistan’s justice system is flawed, but the government hasn’t prioritized women’s rights either.
Farkhunda’s case underscores the government’s unwillingness to defend women’s rights. Not only did the government fail to deliver justice, it did little to ensure that such a wicked act against a woman would never repeat.
Najla Raheel, a lawyer who represented Farkhunda’s family, revealed that “Some government officials didn’t want 49 men punished for the death of one woman.”
A United Nations report confirms this practice, highlighting “the frequent failure of State officials to exercise due-diligence in investigating, prosecuting and punishing perpetrators, and providing reparations to survivors, [which] contributed to the existing high rate of impunity and strengthened the normalization of violence against women in the Afghan society.”
Protections for Afghan women are merely on paper and rarely enacted as the government lacks the political will. Heather Barr, the co-director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch and an expert on Afghanistan, notes that “The Afghan government has been an unreliable supporter — and sometimes even an enemy — of women’s rights. The administrations of both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani have frequently brushed aside women’s rights.” This is so because the Afghan government has few incentives to support basic human rights.
Since the demise of the Taliban’s regime, gains in women’s rights have largely been due to the pressure from the international community. International experts had a significant influence in the creation of the Afghan constitution, reaffirming the rights of women and increasing their presence in the government through gender quotas.
In the last 19 years, the Afghan government has used women as window dressing for gender equality to appease international donors. This is why Afghan women mustn’t rely on the government to prevent another tragedy like Farkhunda’s.
As the discussion for peace is ongoing, Afghan women need to ensure that not only would the Taliban not violate their rights, but that the current government will not ignore them.
Sabera Azizi is a freelance writer and an expert on Afghanistan. She previously worked for the Afghan government and can be followed on Twitter @saberaazizi.