Kabul: Violence against women is widespread and deeply rooted in Afghanistan, where they are becoming less active in public life eight years after the Taliban regime collapsed, the United Nations said on Monday.
The world body has spearheaded a 16-day campaign to eliminate violence against women, which is due to end on December 10, the anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights.
"Violence targeting women and girls is widespread and deeply rooted in Afghan society. It is not adequately challenged and condemned by society and institutions," said Norah Niland, chief UN human rights officer in Afghanistan.
"The space for women in public life is shrinking. The trend is negative," she told a Kabul news conference.
Banned from public life under the iron fist of the Taliban regime from 1996 until the 2001 US-led invasion, women still struggle for their rights in the impoverished, deeply conservative and war-torn country.
"No real peace and national development are possible without the elimination of violence against women," added Zia Moballegh, acting country director for the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development.
"Women who try to advocate for their rights in public life are being subject to violence and physical attacks," he said.
Islamist insurgents destroy girls' schools in Afghanistan and the Afghan parliament has yet to approve a draft law on violence against women.
"Elimination of violence against women will not be possible without a national will and also the determination of men," Moballegh said.
UN official Niland highlighted the scourge of rape in Afghanistan.
"Our field research finds that rape is under-reported and concealed, and a huge problem in Afghanistan. It affects all parts of the country, all communities and all social groups," she said.
"Women risk rape in their homes, villages and detention facilities. Shame is quite often attached to rape victims, not perpetrators. Victims often find themselves prosecuted for the offence of adultery," Niland said.
Adultery is punishable by jail in Afghanistan and there is no explicit provision in the 1976 Afghan penal code that criminalises rape.
Only 12.6 percent of women over the age of 15 can read and write, and 57 percent of girls are married off under the legal age of 16, the UN says.
The country's maternal mortality rate is the second highest in the world, with nearly 25,000 deaths per year.
Although the constitution stipulates that at least 25 percent of lawmakers in parliament must be women, there is only one woman cabinet minister in the government, women's minister Husn Bano Ghazanfar.
First Published: Monday, November 30, 2009, 18:06