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As Afghanistan’s Special Forces Train Female Recruits, A UN Report Says New Law Fails To Protect Afg
December 11, 2012
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When it comes to equality and women's rights, it's fair to say Afghanistan's track record is pretty ugly.

Three years ago, the Afghan government passed a law that criminalizes more than a dozen acts of violence and abuse against women.

Well today, the United Nations released a report on how effective the law has been. The short answer: not very effective.

"Although prosecutors and courts were increasingly applying the law in a growing number of reported incidents, the overall use of the law remained low, indicating there is still a long way to go before women and girls in Afghanistan are fully protected from violence through the law," the report said.

The report says authorities have had some success prosecuting rape cases, forced marriages and domestic violence.

But it says Afghan women are still frequently abused.

"Given the high number of cases of violence against women, from now on we should stop using the word 'violence' and use the word 'crime' when we talk about this," said Selay Ghaffar, a member of the Afghan Women's Network.

"Unfortunately, those who violate women's rights have not been punished, and they still walk free," she told the New York Times.

Not only that, but many cases are never reported to authorities because women are afraid to violate cultural, social or religious beliefs, or they're afraid they'll be killed.

"Women will tell you that most of them don't go to authorities to complain," said Georgette Gagnon, human rights director for the U.N. in Afghanistan. "And how would they go? They can't get out of the house."

The report collected information from 22 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces over a one year period, ending in September.

While the big picture is dark, there are occasional signs that views on women's rights could be slowly changing.

For instance, women are now playing a key role in Afghanistan's Special Forces as the country prepares for NATO's combat troops to pull out in 2014.

As NATO forces gradually hand over security, male and female soldiers are training side by side.

In all, 12 elite women soldiers have been specially trained in the past year - in part to make Afghan forces appear more culturally sensitive.

So, when Afghan troops carry out night raids in search of Taliban militants, the female soldiers are the ones who question women and children.

"Before us, the American female soldiers used to search women and that was creating problems, they didn't understand them and the Afghan civilians were not comfortable," said Sara, a female soldier in the Afghan special forces.

"Now that we are doing the searching ourselves, there are fewer incidents."

In all, there are now more than 350,000 soldiers and police in the Afghan security forces. But the 12 special forces soldiers are the only women fighting in the military.

"They need female doctors and female teachers, and it is the same for the police and the army. That is why my family supported me when I decided to serve my country," said Sara.

"When we put on our gear, we stop fearing. We know there may be death and injuries, but we are not afraid, because we are part of the troops."

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