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III. Attacks, Intimidation, and Threats Against Women's Rights Activists

You have to accept that if you are working on women’s rights, you will face problems. The main obstacle is the security issue as a whole. There are a lot of obstacles. Everyone knows well the language of guns and war. Even entering the door of [this office], that itself is a grave risk.
─Women’s rights activist, Kabul, August 24, 2004

Politically powerful military factions, the Taliban, and conservative religious leaders continue to threaten and intimidate women who promote women’s rights. Human Rights Watch interviewed a wide range of women targeted for intimidation and harassment. These women had chosen to participate in public life as journalists, potential political candidates, aid workers, teachers, and donors. Women whose behavior challenged social expectations and traditional roles also faced harassment. In other cases, factional leaders or Taliban have launched rockets and grenades against the offices of women’s development projects, such as those providing health, literacy, and rights awareness programs. Such symbolic attacks sent a clear message that women and girls seeking to claim the most basic rights could face retaliation.

Continuing violent attacks and threats against women in the public sphere have also created an environment of fear and caution. Women’s rights activists and journalists carefully word their statements or avoid publishing on some topics because they are afraid of violent consequences. Many women, ranging from community social workers to Afghan U.N. officials, told Human Rights Watch they wore burqas when traveling outside of Kabul. These decisions were made not out of choice, but compulsion due to the lack of safety guarantees. Many women blamed the failure of disarmament, the entrenchment of warlords in both regional and central governments, and the limited reach of international peacekeeping troops as the reasons why they felt unsafe.

Death threats, intimidation, and attacks

Using threatening phone calls, “night letters,” 22 armed confrontations, and bomb or rocket attacks against offices, factional and insurgent forces are attempting to scare women into silence, casting a shadow on the Afghan women’s movement and governmental attempts to promote women’s and girls’ development.

Women rights activists expressed frustration at the inadequate security provided to them by the central government and international peacekeeping forces. After facing an attack, one women’s rights activist who had been unable to obtain adequate security from the central government said, “After that, I said I am not going to the provinces anymore.  I used to be involved in election [campaigning], but not anymore. Why should I care who wins the presidential elections, Karzai or Jalal, if they do not care for my life or protection?”23

Below are examples of the types of threats and intimidation that Afghan women have experienced in the previous twelve months:

  • Armed groups have targeted prominent women government officials who have been active in promoting women’s rights. In mid-July, 2004, an official with the Ministry and Rehabilitation and Rural Development and prominent women’s rights activist, Safia Sidiqui, was traveling in Nangarhar province.  As her convoy left a gathering where she had been the key speaker, her vehicle came across three men who were apparently trying to plant a landmine ahead of her convoy. After a gun battle, one man committed suicide and the other two escaped.24 She echoed the frustration of many other women about the government’s inability to provide adequate security:

Sometimes the government cannot intervene and that is a fact. The [central] government does not have full authority in Afghanistan. The gun is still leading the people. The people with guns are the ones who cause problems…especially for women.25

  • On the night of August 22, 2004, a landmine set off by remote control exploded in front of the house of a senior woman government official in a central Afghan province. Although she and her entire family were at home, nobody was injured. For several months prior to the attack, she had reported receiving letters threatening her not to work, especially on behalf of women or for the government.26
  • Talking about women’s rights can be life-threatening. For example, one woman told Human Rights Watch that on June 20, 2004, she had spoken at a program hosted by a women’s rights organization. She said, “I talked about sexual harassment, about girls raped in Paghman. There had been a girl kidnapped from Sher-e nau [a neighborhood in central Kabul]. Talking about trafficking attracted threats. On 22 June, I was washing clothes, and went to hang them outside…[when] three bullets were fired. They only missed me by inches.”27 She continues to receive death threats by phone.
  • A women’s development project in a northern province was forced to close in April 2004 after operating for only three months.  Project managers in Kabul learned that local strongmen had taken over the center and were warning the intended beneficiaries, to stay away. The woman aid worker who investigated the problem received threatening phone calls daily from March 30, 2004 until she temporarily took refuge in India. As she later told Human Rights Watch:
They called me on my mobile phone, saying, “You are doing things you should not. We will kill you. We know you are staying at [name withheld]. We will kill you, don’t work with foreigners.28 We will kill you as an example to other women.” [I knew they were watching me] because, as I answered the phone, they said “you are opening your door, you are wearing these clothes, you just turned your head.” It was so scary. I was very scared. I don’t go around as much as I used to and I will never go to [the city where this took place].29

Project managers discontinued funding for the women’s center in that location and do not have immediate plans for opening a new one there.

  • A woman working for an Afghan NGO described the threats she received after a photograph of her, taken at a moment when her headscarf had inadvertently slipped off, was published on the web. K.N. had traveled abroad for a leadership conference and the photograph was published on the sponsor’s website. Starting in mid-April 2004, she received threatening daily e-mails for two weeks and two letters delivered directly to her house. She told Human Rights Watch:
The e-mails said, “You are going to foreign countries and forgetting chador.30 You are abusing women, trying to get women out of houses, to take off their chador. You NGOs have big resources, you are the ones eliminating Islam from Afghanistan. You are trying to teach women computers and English, you are not trying to teach them Islam. You are telling them they are better than men.” The e-mails said, “I know you, you are not wearing a burqa…. I know you are single, anything can happen, very bad things.” The two letters said, “Do not go out of your house. If you do so, I will throw acid on your face. Then you will have to wear a burqa forever.”31

The threats have affected the behavior and movements of K.N. and she lives in fear. She told us, “Sometimes I am afraid. I changed the way that I wear chador [to cover more of my face]. I used to take a car from the street, now I take it from my gate. I do not want to go to the bazaar, they can do anything they want to me there. It hasn’t been that long, [it happened] just three months ago.”32

  • Intimidation takes the form of not only physical threats, but also slander. Honor and reputation are important in Afghan society, and developing a “bad name” can affect not only a woman’s credibility and ability to work in the community, but may also affect the marriage, education, and work prospects of herself and her family. One woman activist who has been targeted by Atta Mohammed and others in Jamiat-e Islami (Jamiat) in Balkh province said:
Today I am very sad, yesterday I cried. Atta Mohammed33 said bad words against me…. They are slandering me. It is a woman’s life to be honorable and treated properly.  I haven’t faced any problems from society, just commanders. Commanders threaten me, they say bad words, words that exist for bad women [being non-Muslim, dishonest, having inappropriate contact with men]. Physical threats would be better then these words and bad names. If I get cut here, I hurt my arm, but from this [attack on my reputation] I get mental pain.34

Although many of the women whom Human Rights Watch interviewed remained defiant and determined to pursue their work, others quietly expressed their fears and the ways they have been forced to curtail or change their work or their movements. Still others may never choose to become involved with women’s rights or work in the public sphere because of the risks it entails. A women’s rights activist working for an NGO lamented the fact that, “So many women wanted to make organizations for women’s rights. When they saw the threats, they left the work.”35 One woman working on human rights said, “Of course I am afraid. I know that people don’t like the things we do. I would never give up [doing things] my way even if I faced problems in the future, but I do not want to die soon. I have a lot of hopes.”36

Obstruction of women’s development projects

Guns are ruling, there is no security, I wish disarmament could take place. It has a direct effect on our work, because with guns ruling, there is no security and women can’t work freely, go to health care centers, they can’t go to school. If we work for the development for women, it takes a lot of energy. If the law ruled instead of guns, we would only need half the energy we do now.
—Official from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Kabul, August 31, 2004

The dominance of armed political factions and continuing attacks by the Taliban and other insurgent forces have greatly impeded women’s participation in the public sphere, and also present grave obstacles to implementing desperately needed women’s development projects, including education, health, and income-generating programs. When insurgent forces or armed factions attack a women’s rights NGO staff member or the office of a women-focused development project—they affect the provision of services and opportunities to dozens and sometimes hundreds of women. This intimidation is often symbolic, as with attacks on girls’ schools, and it creates an atmosphere of fear sending a message to women, girls, and their families that they may be targeted if they participate in these programs. Local commanders, Taliban, and other insurgent forces have attacked dozens of girls’ schools in the past two years.37

The presence of international security forces makes a critical difference. In places with greater assurances of safety and where NGOs feel safe to work, for example, Kabul, Afghan women and girls have participated enthusiastically in education, rights awareness programs, and other activities. In other locations, threats and harassment of staff working on women’s development projects, intimidation of beneficiaries, and attacks on offices and vehicles has contributed to premature closure of projects or has prevented projects from even getting started.

Below are examples of the types of threats and intimidation that women’s rights advocates and women’s development projects have experienced in the past twelve months:

  • In May 2004, a women’s rights organization was forced to close a project in the central Panjshir region supporting internally displaced women because a group of mullahs objected to rights awareness programs conducted by the center.38 Despite negotiations between U.N. and NGO officials with the local mullahs and governor, the center was closed. The center served two hundred women daily with programs including sewing, basic women’s rights, civic awareness, and health initiatives. A funder for the center told Human Rights Watch:

    The women keep on calling and calling us, saying we need such activities, and there was only one center. But we had received warnings and threats, they said they would kill us. The health educator and literary teacher faced many threats and they decided not to come to the center. The governor promised to do his best to reopen the center and to talk to the mullahs. [In the end], he said we should reopen, but he could not give us any guarantees for our safety.  Our local implementing partner still has funds for this project. We are still waiting for the security situation to improve.39

  • A woman working for the implementing women’s rights organization said:

    They issued warnings about foreigners coming to the center; they did not like that. They said, “you will be killed or they will be killed.” One of our female staff was threatened by armed men. If she had continued the work, she might have lost her life—in May 2004, two armed men came in front of [her] car and pointed a gun. They said they were leaders of a big group. They said, “We don’t want to see you here again or else you risk your lives and the life of your driver.” 40

    The interviewee did not believe the religious leaders to be affiliated with a political party, but said they were backed by armed groups. She and her colleagues spent months trying to resolve the situation but since the governmental authorities were unable to help, the women’s rights NGO could not resume the project. She said, “Nothing worked. We felt we had lost.”41

    • The National Solidarity Program, aimed at fostering public participation in local governance, establishes local shuras, or councils, all over the country. These include women’s shuras to increase women’s participation in decision-making. Although the government has been able to establish hundreds of shuras, it has faced obstacles in some places that prevented or slowed its work. One government official knowledgeable about the program noted that threats prevented the creation of women’s shuras in some provinces such as Parwan, Nangarhar, Bamiyan, Kandahar, and Kapisa. She said political parties and local commanders created the most problems. “They can block [these shuras] very easily, if they threaten women, or if they threaten a male member of her household saying, ‘your wife is going out of the house, I will kill you.’ Obviously, the women will be afraid.”42
    • Unknown attackers targeted a local women’s center in eastern Afghanistan and threw a grenade into its office on December 14, 2003, causing damage to the building. The organizer said, “It had an impact on our beneficiaries, it is difficult enough for women to leave the house, and it was difficult to convince them to establish trust again.”43
    • A director of an international aid organization said, “We seek to involve women in decision-making, but this is often seen as too political. A year ago, we received a number of ‘night letters’ and warning letters. Women’s participation is a difficult issue. An RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] was fired at our offices in [southeast Afghanistan]. It didn’t hurt anyone, but it alarmed us…. A few months ago, a small rocket hit our office in [central Afghanistan].”44
    • In eastern Afghanistan, a women’s rights activist received letters in her office threatening her with death in November 2003 and June 2004. She took the first letter and reported it to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the provincial security commanders. Before they had time to arrange security, she encountered three armed men waiting in a car in front of her house. She told Human Rights Watch:
    There was a Datsun there, like our office car. I thought they were from my office. I turned. There were three men with weapons, two at the back side and one in the front of the car. The man in the front said to me bad things, “We will kill you and your family.”  I went inside and didn’t talk with them because I was very afraid. They did not have military clothes, were wearing ordinary clothes with pakol [round wool hats worn by many militia forces in Afghanistan, especially Tajik militias]. It was not clear who they were. I came to Kabul two or three days later without informing anyone [to escape the situation]. I was in Kabul for one or two weeks.45
    • The Taliban and other insurgent forces killed twenty-four aid workers in the first eight months of 2004, including the June 2, 2004 murders of five Médecins Sans Frontières staff (MSF, Doctors Without Borders).46 In late July, MSF pulled out of Afghanistan because of safety concerns for its workers.47 Not only had MSF worked in Afghanistan through some of the worst periods of violence and repression in the 1990s, but it provided essential basic health care services for women and programs to reduce Afghanistan’s high maternal mortality rates.

    In addition to the threats and intimidation just described, factional control of government offices has also impeded women’s projects. For example, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in northern Balkh province is controlled by individuals allied with the military faction Jamiat-e Islami (Jamiat). Many of the independent NGOs in the area complained they face harassment and at times active hostility from local ministry officials. One women’s rights activist noted, “I am under a lot of pressure, I cannot conduct activities freely, because they do not allow anyone to work with us.”48

    Fear of attacks prevents many women from working or traveling, especially in areas where there is no international peacekeeping presence or where the central government has not established control over local warlords. The lack of safety in these areas has severely limited the expansion and reach of women’s development projects. The continuing “rule of the gun” has forced Afghan and international NGOs, U.N. programs, and Afghan government initiatives to concentrate their activities in regions where women’s rights projects are less likely to be targets and where assurances of safety enable them to recruit and retain female teachers, health care workers, and social workers.49 One women’s rights activist told Human Rights Watch:

    It is not the fault of NGOs, it is a result of the security problems…. There is bad security and not many NGOs operating in Kandahar, Hilmand, Farah, the eastern part [of the country], Paktia, Taloqan, Takhar, and Badakshan. Most are working in Mazar-e Sharif, Ghazni, Logar, Parwan, and Bamiyan [which are safer].50

    One woman wanted to acknowledge that her organization, which has encountered obstacles and threats in different provinces, also receives, “lots of requests, even from commanders, to come and open [women’s] centers.”51 Such cooperation, however, is not common in large parts of the country, which remain hostile environments for women’s rights initiatives.

    Threats and intimidation related to freedom of expression

    Security is an important issue. Everything is in the hands of a few of people. If women feel secure, they can raise their voice….  We feel danger in all ways, the gun is ruling here. It is difficult to speak the truth here, because it is not a secure and healthy environment here.
    —K.K., women’s rights activist, Herat, September 2, 2004

    Freedom of expression—particularly in terms of speaking freely about a wide range of women’s rights issues and of dressing according to one’s preferences—remains elusive for many Afghan women. Powerful military, political, and religious figures continue to use threats, violent attacks, and other intimidation tactics to stifle women’s voices. Human Rights Watch documented cases of death threats and harassment against women who spoke out about sensitive women’s rights issues like human trafficking. Factional control over the media has muted freedom of expression in several provinces.  Many Afghan women struggle to assert their freedom to speak and dress how they like, but instead, fear pushes them to choose their words and appearance carefully to avoid stirring controversy and attracting reprisals.

    Women’s freedom of expression varies regionally. In some places, women’s ability to create publications, establish women’s radio stations, and to speak freely has expanded significantly. In these places, programs to train women journalists are flourishing, as are women-focused and women-led media projects.

    Other places are marked by an atmosphere of fear and repression. For example, in August 2004, before Ismail Khan’s removal from the governorship of Herat, women in Herat were often nervous or hesitant to give interviews. One woman in Herat told Human Rights Watch, “I am 100 percent afraid to talk, even now talking to you I am afraid. There is no freedom of expression here.”52

    Below are examples of retaliation against individuals who have spoken out about women’s rights and the fears that women from several parts of the country shared with Human Rights Watch about freely expressing themselves:

    • A women’s rights activist in eastern Afghanistan was threatened on June 29, 2004. She received a threatening letter at her office that had been slid underneath the door. She told us, “It had Arabic verses from the Koran. Again it was threatening me with death…. I know that there were some people who complained about me to one of the most terrible commanders. [A commander] who has killed not just in Jalalabad but all over the country. The commanders don’t like our [work] because it talks about how they kill people, harass people, and kidnap.”53
    • Journalists reported received threatening phone calls and letters after publishing stories on sensitive issues. Most are skeptical about the government’s ability to protect them, for example, through the police, and others found the government and the human rights commission unsympathetic to the dangers they face. An editor of a women’s publication said:
    I have received threats about twenty times…. They were telephone threats, there was one even a few nights ago…. Our weekly is hot and spicy [provocative]…. I know the Taliban will never accept me. The telephone threats are usually at night. I have not reported them to anyone. If I want to report it, what can they do? Nothing at all.54
    • A male presidential candidate, Latif Pedram, who made statements proposing debates on divorce and polygyny, encountered challenges to his candidacy in late August 2004 when the chief justice of the Afghan Supreme Court and other judges allied with the warlord Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf sent a letter to UNAMA and the election commission demanding that Pedram be expelled from the presidential race for committing blasphemy by questioning Islamic marital laws.55 UNAMA and the commission received a second letter in mid-September asking them to take action. Pedram is currently still a candidate, and the election commission is not expected to act on the judges’ demands, but the incident illustrates the sensitivity of discussing certain women’s rights issues.56
    • Choices about dress are also a form of expression, and although many Afghan women chafed at the level of international attention focused on the burqa, many also told Human Rights Watch that security conditions denied them choices and compelled them to wear the burqa in many places. One female U.N. official had received two threatening letters in late 2003. These letters, in combination with the murder of one of her female colleagues by militants a few weeks later, has not diminished her resolve to work for women’s rights, but has forced her to change how she travels. She said, “My friend was killed but we continue to work. When I go outside of Kabul, I prefer to wear the burqa.”57

    Human Rights Watch interviewed women who talked about avoiding certain topics in their public speaking and writing to prevent threats and violence. One journalist said, “I feel I should control what I say and unfortunately I do this most of the time.”58 Most tried to present their work as moderate and mainstream, distancing themselves from work considered sensitive or explosive.  Others felt that the atmosphere prevented some women from getting involved at all: “Security as a whole is a problem. Many women don’t want to get involved or talk about human rights.”59

    Women continue to self-censor themselves regularly. A women’s rights activist noted, “women are very careful about their statements. There is 50 percent freedom of speech, and 50 percent under pressure. [For] journalists and women who are speaking out …. Self-censorship is a protection mechanism.”`60 A woman government official told Human Rights Watch: “I have lots of things to say about these eighteen [presidential] candidates. I know everybody, and I know what they have done. I have questions, and I can’t say them. I would put myself in too much danger.”61

    Perhaps the most sensitive issue for women’s rights activists is how to engage in public discussion about women’s rights and Islam without facing retaliation from conservative religious and political leaders. All of the women’s rights activists whom Human Rights Watch interviewed agreed that the best strategy to promote women’s rights was to highlight the ways in which women’s rights are protected in Islam and that any perceived challenge to the religion would result not only in social ostracism, but threats to their physical safety. As one young activist noted, “The main point is that you have to be careful about Islam. I believe that Islam is good for women…. You can never say that Islam is wrong, you have to focus on the point that you want to change. If we say, ‘we should change tradition,’ that is better.”62 A prominent editor of a women’s publication said, “If Islamic rule is mixed in with traditions, you can’t write about that. For example, divorce.”63

    One women’s rights activist told Human Rights Watch:

    I am afraid to talk. I can’t raise my voice. I am a mother. I feel worried for my children. I can’t talk about shari’a for example. I can’t talk about women’s rights in Islam, I am afraid of religious leaders and mullahs. Everyone knows them and if I talk about women’s rights, they will call me non-Muslim.64

    The consequences of publishing sensitive articles about women’s rights and Islam can include prosecution, slander, and death threats. Many female journalists around the country noted the case of a women’s rights activist and journalist in Mazar-e Sharif who was forced to go into hiding in 2003 after she published an article on women’s rights in Islam that enraged a military faction and local religious leaders. The Council of Religious Elders called for her trial, while others accused her of attacking Islam and called for her death.65 Although the Mazar-e Sharif court threw the case out in mid-2003, she told Human Rights Watch that she and members of her family still encounter harassment from officials affiliated with the dominant political faction in their workplaces, educational institutions, and daily lives.66

    The powerful influence in regional governments and the cabinet of political parties and military factions with long histories of human rights abuses also inhibits women’s freedom of speech. These figures have used their positions in government to consolidate control and to undermine potential opposition or critique. In one province controlled by a conservative military faction, a woman running a women’s radio station complained about her inability to broadcast stories about sensitive women’s social issues. She told Human Rights Watch:

    We are not free to publish some stories …. Whenever we try to conduct research, the government doesn’t allow us. They won’t help us get the necessary documents. We did a lot of research about burning [of women, but could not air the story]…. Our real problem is that we cannot publish about family problems, widows, women working on the street—prostitutes.67

    One manager of a Kabul radio station said although they try to take some risks in their reporting, “we don’t talk too specifically about commanders, because of guns or people who can threaten us or make limitations on our funds or our programs.”68 A women’s rights activist in Kandahar said, “I cannot talk freely, because in the Kandahar environment, I am afraid. People may interpret what I say wrongly. I am afraid to talk about political issues especially, because each political party is working for its own benefit. If I talk on political issues, they will think I am talking about them and it will be dangerous for me.”69

    [22] “Night letters” refer to threats or letters that arrive at night, often directly to the recipient’s home or office. These letters are often particularly frightening to the recipient as the practice demonstrates that whoever is threatening her has visited her home and knows where to find her.

    [23] Human Rights Watch interview with women’s rights activist, Kabul, August 23, 2004.

    [24] Human Rights Watch interview with Safia Sidiqi, gender advisor, Ministry of Rehabilitation and Rural Development, Kabul, August 23, 2004.

    [25] Ibid.

    [26] Human Rights Watch interview with AIHRC official, Kabul, August 29, 2004 and Human Rights Watch interview with Ministry of Women’s Affairs official, Kabul, August 31, 2004.

    [27] Human Rights Watch interview with M.T., women’s rights activist, August 13, 2004.

    [28] The women’s development project was funded by an international organization.

    [29] Human Rights Watch phone interview with S.R., Kabul, September 13, 2004.

    [30] Chador refers to a head-to-toe garment worn by women as one way of following Islamic dress code, which includes covering one’s hair and obscuring the shape of the body. A burqa is a chador which also covers the face, with a mesh screen to allow the woman to see.

    [31] Human Rights Watch interview with K.N., women’s rights activist, Kabul, August 22, 2004.

    [32] Ibid.

    [33] Atta Mohammed is the current governor of Balkh province and is a prominent leader of the mujahidin military faction Jamiat-e Islami (Jamiat).

    [34] Ibid.

    [35] Human Rights Watch interview with F.O., Mazar-e Sharif, August 16, 2004.

    [36] Human Rights Watch interview with J.H., Kabul, August 24, 2004.

    [37] Shahabbudin Tarakhil and Hafizullah Gardish, “Girls' Schools Become Targets,” Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), June 4, 2004; Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, “SCA condemns recent attacks on girls' schools,” Press Release, April 1, 2004.

    [38] Mullahs are the traditional leaders of local mosques who lead prayers.

    [39] Human Rights Watch interview with R.S., official from a donor agency, Kabul, August 12, 2004.

    [40] Human Rights Watch interview with S.N., women’s rights NGO, Kabul, August 12, 2004.

    [41] Ibid.

    [42] Human Rights Watch interview with senior government official, Kabul, August 23, 2004.

    [43] Ibid.

    [44] Human Rights Watch interview with D.E., Kabul, August 21, 2004.

    [45] Human Rights Watch phone interview with T.A., Jalalabad, August 29, 2004.

    [46] Security personnel in Kabul now suspect that the June 2 killing of five MSF aid workers, which was first thought to be carried out by Taliban forces, was in fact carried out by a local autonomous militia. Human Rights Watch interviews with U.N. and NGO security officials, Kabul, September 21, 2004; Human Rights Watch interview with security officials, Mazar-e Sharif, August 15, 2004.

    [47] Médecins Sans Frontières, “MSF withdraws from Afghanistan following killing, threats and insecurity,” Press Release, July 30, 2004.

    [48] Human Rights Watch interview with F.O., Mazar-e Sharif, August 16, 2004.

    [49] Security problems contribute to difficulties recruiting and retaining female staff for programs in the provinces. In a striking example of how efforts to bolster participation of women has enjoyed significantly more success in Kabul than in the provinces, the Ministry of Rehabilitation and Rural Development has increased the number of female workers from forty to two hundred (out of 1900). Despite this progress, only twelve of these women work in the provincial offices. Human Rights Watch interview with a senior government official, Ministry of Rehabilitation and Rural Development, Kabul, August 23, 2004.

    [50] Human Rights Watch interview with women’s rights activist, Kabul, August 22, 2004

    [51] Human Rights Watch interview with S.N., manager for a women’s rights NGO with projects in several parts of the country, Kabul, August 22, 2004.

    [52] Human Rights Watch phone interview with S.Z., Herat, August 29, 2004.

    [53] Ibid.

    [54] Human Rights Watch interview with H.G., editor, Kabul, August 23, 2004.

    [55] Pamela Constable, “A Taboo Issue in Afghan Campaign: As Millions of Women Prepare to Vote, Debate on Their Other Rights Is Dampened,” The Washington Post, September 8, 2004. Polygyny refers to the practice of men marrying more than one woman; polyandry is the practice of a woman marrying more than one man; and polygamy is the more general term referring to having more than one spouse.

    [56] In a televised debate among seventeen presidential candidates in late August 2004, some candidates made degrading comments attacking women’s rights, including suggestions that giving too much freedom to women will lead them to have sex with animals, and that women were not capable of handling leadership positions in the government. These comments passed without the same level of furor as Pedram’s statements about divorce and polygyny.

    [57] Human Rights Watch interview with R.S., U.N. official, Kabul, August 12, 2004.

    [58] Human Rights Watch interview with G.K., journalist, Kabul, August 23, 2004.

    [59] Human Rights Watch interview with F.S., women’s rights activist, Kabul, August 24, 2004.

    [60] Human Rights Watch interview with M.H., women’s rights activist, Kabul, August 23, 2004.

    [61] Human Rights Watch interview with N.F., senior government official, Kabul, August 24, 2004.

    [62] Human Rights Watch interview with T.N., women’s rights activist, Kabul, August 23, 2004.

    [63] Human Rights Watch interview with H.G., editor, Kabul, August 23, 2004.

    [64] Human Rights Watch phone interview with B.A., western Afghanistan, September 5, 2004.

    [65] Human Rights Watch interview with R.H., journalist and women’s rights activist, Mazar-e Sharif, August 18, 2004; and Human Rights Watch interview with UNAMA official, August 15, 2004.

    [66] Human Rights Watch interview with R.H., journalist and women’s rights activist, Mazar-e Sharif, August 18, 2004.

    [67] Human Rights Watch interview with H.S., journalist, northern Afghanistan, August 15, 2004.

    [68] Human Rights Watch interview with J.S., Kabul, August 28, 2004.

    [69] Human Rights Watch interview with N.V., government worker, Kandahar, August 27, 2004.

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