After the overthrow of the Taliban, Afghanistan has been governed as a Western-backed democracy working for women’s rights and education. Unfortunately, many Afghan women are caught between a deeply traditional society and their new ideas about freedom, rights and opportunity of education. This freedom clashes with Afghan customs, where male elders decide their fate selling some as young teenage brides. Many girls and women flee arranged marriages and seek refuge in urban shelters or end up in prison for moral crimes, including zina or sex outside marriage. These runaways are faced with abuse or imprisonment as they attempt freedom turning to and trusting corrupt police officers. Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, has not responded to the issue while the Human Rights Watch has sent an appeal warning ignoring this issue could compromise Afghanistan’s development. They asked for the enforcement of the 2009 decree making 18 the minimum age for marriage, promote women’s shelters and increase the number of female police officers.
“We are fighting, but all the power in this society belongs to men.” That was the response giving in an interview of Noorzia Atmar, a former member of parliament, when asked about her hiding out from her abusive husband in a shelter. When she tried to seek a divorce from him because of the intolerable domestic conditions, he threatened to kill her. Another girl Raya, 18 years old, stated “Now we are living in a democracy, so we should have the right to choose” as she explained why she ran away when her parents insisted she quit school and marry the man they chose for her. Even though several million Afghan girls have gained the right to education, more than have are forced to marry before the age of 18 and about 25% are married off before their mid-teens. Women’s advocacy groups fear that the gains made in the past decade in Afghanistan are starting to erode to the pre-Taliban traditions of child marriages, trading girls to settle disputes and ritual hounding by in-laws. As a result of this, Afghan human right groups reported the number of girls and women charged with moral crimes has increased 50 percent in the past several years. Enayatullah Balegh, the president’s adviser on religious affairs accuses the West of trying to force change on Afghan culture and stated, “Women in our country have all the rights and respect they are due in Islam. We settle our problems through our religion and our families.” Mary Akrami, an Afghan activist who operates private shelters believes and has seen otherwise. She stated that Afghan women are learning they have rights and have the courage to stand up, but what good does it do if families do not change.