Honouring Farkhunda

Suraya Sadeed President of Help the Afghan Children, on finding peace and preventing violence against women in Afghanistan.

As an Afghan American, a flood of emotions filled my mind when I first heard the news about Farkhunda, the 27-year-old Afghan woman who was tragically beaten and burned by an angry mob in Kabul on March 19th for allegedly burning a copy of the Q’uran, a claim that was proven false. Now we learn that four of the 49 defendants who were brought to trial have been sentenced to death while others were given prison time for their role in the attack or found not guilty and released.

At first I became extremely depressed over her senseless torture and killing. Then I became angry when I thought about the thousands of Afghan women and girls who are being beaten, abused, maimed, burned and killed every year and no one knows their names.

After Farkhunda’s death and this trial has garnered the obligatory 15 minutes of media attention, the world will surely move on to other tragedies while brutal attacks against women and girls continue in towns, villages and homes throughout Afghanistan.

Despite the enactment of laws designed to give Afghan women greater protections against violence, harassment and discrimination, far too many women and girls remain vulnerable to such abuses. One huge stumbling block is the lack of respect and support (of women) by male religious and other leaders who wield great influence and power in their communities. In fact it was a local Imam who falsely accused Farkhunda of burning a Q’uran.

Adding to this problem is a pervasive culture of violence that runs deep in many communities where fighting and retaliation is viewed as both honorable and the only means of resolving conflicts and disputes. This cycle of violence is perpetuated in homes where women and girls are vulnerable to violence from husbands, fathers, brothers and even other women. But there is a way to end this vicious cycle of violence, and that is to educate men and even boys to not only honor and respect women and girls, but also recognize them as valuable partners in building peaceful, stable homes and communities.

Our project has four objectives. First, to teach and motivate male leaders to respect and value women as community partners, by including and involving them in local councils. Second, to educate and train parents and other family members on the use of non-violent conflict resolution methods in homes, thereby reducing abuse and threatening behavior toward women and girls. Third, to educate Afghan boys in schools to reject violence and adopt the principles of peaceful, everyday living, which has historically reduced fighting and aggressive behaviors. And finally to educate women and girls about their rights and protections and empower them to take more active roles in local community affairs.

Our task will not be easy and we face enormous challenges, but through education we have seen Afghan teachers abandoning their corporal punishment practices in our schools; Afghan husbands changing their abusive behaviors and treating their wives with respect; and Afghan religious and community leaders in targeted villages teaching the principles of non-conflict resolution and peace-building for all citizens. To me, this is the best way we can honor Farkhunda and the tens of thousands of Afghan women and girls who have needlessly died as a result of violence.

Suraya Sadeed is the President of Help the Afghan Children and has an innovation grant for her work from DFID’s global research and innovation programme, What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls, www.whatworks.co.za

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