Last update: December 2020
*Minor updates added: April 2022
Women and girls continue to suffer from gender-based violence across Afghanistan. In general, violence against women and girls is a pervasive problem, regardless of the ethnic group. Even before the Taliban takeover, the implementation and awareness of the Elimination of Violence Against Women law (EVAW) was described as limited. Perpetrators of attacks against women continued to enjoy impunity [Criminal law and customary justice, 1.4].
During the previous conflict, the Taliban exacted punishments such as lashings and executions against women based on their justice system [Criminal law and customary justice, 1.8; State structure, 3.3.1.]. In an incident on 4 August 2021 in the village of Samar Qandian, Balkh, the Taliban reportedly killed a young woman for wearing tight clothing and not being accompanied by a male relative [Security September 2021, 2.5]. According to a report, there was some degree of geographic variability in the functioning of the Taliban’s shadow courts, especially for women and in processing more sensitive issues [Country Focus 2022, 1.5].
Large segments of the Afghan society deem domestic violence, such as wife battery, acceptable; and while rape is punishable under law, marital rape is not addressed. Women who fled their husband and sought help from the former government have been known to be returned by the police to their families or to be imprisoned for ‘moral crimes’ [Society-based targeting, 3.4, 3.5, 3.6.4, 3.8.4; State Structure, 3.3.1]. After the Taliban takeover, most shelters for victims of domestic violence have reportedly been closed. Therefore, many women were forced to return to live with their abusers, while other women reportedly chose to move to women’s prison. Only a small number of shelters remained open but did not accept new cases. It was also reported that the Taliban were still figuring out what to do about women refuges and it was suggested that women would leave the shelters and would enter prostitution [Country Focus 2022, 1.5.2, 2.3].
Sexual harassment in the workplace and public harassment, including in urban areas, are common problems in Afghanistan. Acid attacks on women have also been reported, including in Kabul and Herat. Reported reasons for violent assaults against women in public included, for example, rejecting marriage proposals, seeking divorce, or going to school [Society-based targeting, 3.2, 3.4, 3.5; Key socio-economic indicators 2020, 2.2.4].
Already before the Taliban takeover, women’s access to justice, courts, and legal assistance for gender-based violence was generally limited. Women who pressed charges were stigmatised and distrusted. Female victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse did not seek legal assistance either due to lack of awareness about their rights or due to the fear of being returned to their families or the perpetrators. The few reported cases on violent incidents against women were not investigated, or women had to withdraw their complaints due to pressure. Often mediation was used instead of a legal recourse to resolve the complaints. If the perpetrator was not the husband, women victims of sexual violence, abuse or rape could also be at risk of punishment for zina [Society-based targeting, 3.5, 3.8.1, 3.8.4; State Structure, 3.3.1; Criminal law and, customary justice, 1.2; Key socio-economic indicators 2017, 3.8].
Many cases of gender-based violence and discrimination against women and girls were referred to jirgas and shuras for advice or resolution, especially in rural and remote areas. Decisions made by the informal justice mechanisms were reported to frequently discriminate against women [Criminal law and customary justice, 2.3.2].
Sexual assault and rape amount to persecution. In case of other forms of violence, the assessment should take into account the severity and repetitiveness of the violence.
The individual assessment of whether there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: being seen as having committed acts contravening the Sharia, type of work and work environment (for women working outside home), perception of traditional gender roles in the family, poor socio-economic situation, family status (the risk of sexual and gender-based violence against women and adolescent girls is higher for those without a male protector, female heads of households, etc.), being in an IDP situation, etc.
Nexus to a reason for persecution
Available information indicates that violence against women may be for reasons of (imputed) political opinion and/or religion (e.g. when persecution is by Taliban), and/or membership of a particular social group (see examples below).
See other topics concerning women: