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Afghanistan: Women Arise
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Afghanistan: Women Arise

It's more than eight years since the Taliban ruled Herat but, for many women here, life has barely changed, with forced marriage, domestic violence, and rape still commonplace. Now a fledgling women's rights movement is determined to change that legacy.

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Segment 1

TITLE
Women Arise
VOICEOVER
The city of Herat in western Afghanistan. It's been more than eight years since the Taliban ruled these streets, but for many of the women here, life has barely changed. Unmarked, in a back street, is this refuge for women and girls who've been abused. The location is secret to protect them from violent relatives, like the husband of this 16-year-old girl.
GIRL
He punched me. Last time he attacked me with a knife twice.
INTERVIEWER
Do you have any marks?
GIRL
On my leg.
INTERVIEWER
On your leg?
GIRL
Yes.
VOICEOVER
This is Sara. She's only 12 years old and was about to be traded for a house.
SARA
We used to be a family. But after we lost our father we went to live at our uncle's house. But he was giving us a hard time. Every day it got worse. He started beating me and pushing my mum to sell me.
SARA'S MOTHER
I told my brother-in-law we were not for sale and left. My sons had already left home. I did not want to lose my daughter too. He really wanted to swap my daughter for the house. If I go back there they'll kill me on sight. I risked my life to save her.
VOICEOVER
The refuge is part of a non-government organization called Voice of Women. It's run by Suraya Pakzad, one of Herat's leading women's rights activists. During the Taliban's rule, she conducted secret classes, teaching girls who were banned from schooling. But in President Hamid Karzai's Afghanistan, her work is far from over. Each day she confronts systematic abuse, including young women and even children who are raped or forced into marriage.
SURAYA PAKZAD [Executive Director, Voice of Women Organization]
Unfortunately in Afghanistan forced and child marriage is not really reduced since 2001. It is still high and a common practice, not only in the rural areas, in the remote areas, even in the cities as well we see every day cases of forced marriages.
VOICEOVER
Suraya's is the only women's refuge in all of western Afghanistan and this afternoon it's nearly full. For Afghan women who want to escape forced marriages and abuse, there are few options.
SURAYA PAKZAD
The law says no one can push the woman to marry some man, but we do not have law enforcement. We have beautiful paper in the constitution, we have beautiful laws, but the implementation of the law is in hands of the warlords, in the hands of the commanders, in the hands of the religious leaders. When they are able to make the decisions, no one can stop them.
VOICEOVER
For those not lucky enough to make it to Suraya's shelter, worse fates are sometimes waiting. This is Herat's juvenile detention centre, and it holds many sad stories. Suraya convinces the guards here to let me inside. I find the inmates are sewing garments for the prison to sell. Many of the girls are here because they ran away from home, which is a crime for women in Afghanistan, regardless of the reason.
SURAYA PAKZAD
They are here because of forced and child marriages. They run away, and according to the law, the government puts them in jail.
VOICEOVER
As well as running away, about half the girls here have also been charged with adultery -- an accusation that often hides a terrible truth.
SURAYA PAKZAD
Some of them are here who are raped. But unfortunately they are here because rape is considered as adultery.
VOICEOVER
Under Afghan law, it is extremely difficult for women to prove they've been raped.
SURAYA PAKZAD
If anyone is raped, they should prove with three witnesses. Somehow they should prove that they are raped and it was not their wish and they were not part of that. And even if it happened in some area and some witnesses were there, no one wants to be witness against a man.
VOICEOVER
This is Nadia. She's just 12 years old.
SURAYA PAKZAD
What problem made you run away from home?
NADIA
A man and his wife kidnapped me.
SURAYA PAKZAD
So why were you brought here?
NADIA
Because the man raped me. That's why I was brought here.
SURAYA PAKZAD
The man raped you?
NADIA
Yes.
SURAYA PAKZAD
Because she was abused and it was considered an adultery case, and they put her in jail, in a correction centre.
NADIA
It's hard for me. I'm left without hope. My life is ruined. I don't know how to live.
VOICEOVER
Nadia has already been held here for eight months and has another four to serve.
SURAYA PAKZAD
When you leave here, will your father come and get you?
NADIA
Yes, but he will push me to get married to my fiance. He's too old for me and I don't want him.
SURAYA PAKZAD
How old is he?
NADIA
He's 30.
VOICEOVER
Police investigations into these girls' cases are basic at best. Farzana is also 12 years old and she too has been charged with adultery.
FARZANA
Our neighbor has a bakery and he took me inside. He gave me something to make me unconscious. Then he raped me inside the bakery.
VOICEOVER
Farzana says the police didn't properly investigate her claims of rape.
FARZANA
They took me for a medical check-up. But they didn't even touch me between the legs.
VOICEOVER
There are at least another 18 girls being held here in similar circumstances, all desperate to get out.
SURAYA PAKZAD
What's your message?
FARZANA
I would like it if my government let me out of here. I would be very grateful.
INTERVIEWER
Some of these girls, they say they're being raped, but then, because they can't prove they were raped, they end up being charged with adultery, and some of them are as young as 13, 12, 14. What's the government going to do about this?
HAMAYUN HAMIDZADA [President Karzai's Spokesman]
We have mechanisms to address unfortunate situations like that if they do arise. One is through the Ministry of Women's Affairs and then the other programs are through the Ministry of Justice. And then you have legal representation for people who cannot afford it or are not able to get legal aid otherwise.
INTERVIEWER
But isn't this more about the fact that maybe this shouldn't be illegal?
HAMAYUN HAMIDZADA
Well, if they are, you know, as I said, arbitrarily taken to the detention centers, it's absolutely wrong. And we'll be sure to pursue incidents you just mentioned. But otherwise we have our laws, the country's laws, Islamic country, and of a highly conservative society. Adultery, as seen under the law, is punishable. So if there are real incidents of adultery, then the laws take their course.
VOICEOVER
Challenging these views can be a dangerous business. Suraya's work has sparked death threats against her, both from abusive husbands and from local warlords who don't like what she is doing.
SURAYA PAKZAD
Mostly I receive phone-call threats. They call me and say if I don't send the girls or women in this time and location they will kill me, they will kidnap my children, or they will create problems for my organization.
VOICEOVER
Suraya went to the local authorities to ask for a bodyguard, but they said they couldn't spare a policeman to give her protection.
SURAYA PAKZAD
Hopefully in the future they can do that, but not now. But I'm at risk now. I need now. I cannot wait for tomorrow. If something happens tomorrow that will be late. But they made a kind of excuse and said they cannot provide anything.
VOICEOVER
While Suraya's work has received praise from the President and international acclaim, she still struggles to get adequate funding. And she accuses the West of not paying enough attention to women's rights in Afghanistan over the last eight years.
SURAYA PAKZAD
They don't take women's issues seriously. They are busy with security issues. They think security is the priority and if they pay attention to that everything will be okay. But they forget that we are 50 percent of the population of Afghanistan. We are able to improve the condition of the country if they don't ignore us.

Segment 2

VOICEOVER
For abused women who can't make it to the shelter or can't bear the thought of being arrested, another desperate and horrific option has become common. In Herat Hospital I find this young woman, Zia. She's 18 years old and has been married for five years.
ZIA
It was very hard for me. I was young when I got married. I didn't know how to run the house. I'd play with kids and then he'd beat me up. Then I grew up and learned it all, but you can see how it ended up.
VOICEOVER
Zia set herself on fire after deciding that she couldn't take her husband's beatings anymore.
ZIA
Last month I couldn't stand it and I did this to myself. And I did all these things to myself.
VOICEOVER
Now her burns have healed and her husband wants to take Zia back to the village, but she doesn't want to go.
ZIA
If I live in the village and my parents live in the city, my husband will beat me up even more. No one will stop him. If he did all this to me here, what will he do in a village?
VOICEOVER
Each year around 100 young women from this area try to commit suicide by setting themselves on fire.
DR. MOHAMMAD AREF JALALI [Director of Heart Hospital Burns Unit]
It's the preferred method for women. This is new to Afghanistan. It started in 2003.
VOICEOVER
Dr. Mohammad Aref Jalali is the director of the burns unit.
DR. MOHAMMAD AREF JALALI
There's no one to help when they set themselves on fire. So they get badly burned. Most of them die. Last year there were 63 deaths from 84 incidents: 85 percent to 90 percent mortality is a very high figure. As for the 15 percent who survive, they have serious problems. It does damage to their beauty, slowly killing them from within.
VOICEOVER
Twenty-year-old Annar Gul has been in the burns unit for the past eight months. Even she finds it hard to believe that she set herself on fire to escape years of abuse from her husband.
ANNAR GUL
I'd make him tea and food when he came home. But he wouldn't eat. He'd just beat me up. He'd punch me and kick me. With so much pressure, I lost control. I left everything and went into a room. I collapsed. I don't remember pouring petrol over myself and lighting it. Afterwards I told people, "I didn't do it. Someone else set me on fire." Now I know that I did it myself. When they're treating my burns, I cry buckets of tears. By the time they finish, I'm nearly dead.
VOICEOVER
Annar's wounds are infected, but Dr. Jalali doesn't have the facilities available to treat her condition.
ANNAR GUL
They say I should be treated in Pakistan, but we have no money and no one is willing to help or to lend us any money. My brother has no money left to take me there.
VOICEOVER
Thirteen-year-old Jamila also set herself on fire. Last year her parents sold her to a 25-year-old man in return for some sheep. Her new family abused her terribly, so she decided to commit suicide, something she now regrets. But Jamila blames poverty, and not her parents, for her situation.
JAMILA
People don't know who they're marrying their daughters to. They don't wait for their daughters to grow up and choose their own husbands. People are poor and marry off their daughters young. The families have no other options.
VOICEOVER
Jamila's little sister is now terrified at the thought of getting married.
LITTLE GIRL
I don't want to marry. I'm scared by my sister's marriage. I want to be someone. I don't want to get married.
VOICEOVER
With an election imminent, some are hoping for an improvement in women's rights in Afghanistan, but the chances are slim. Warlords have long set appalling standards for the treatment of women here, and President Hamid Karzai has picked two powerful warlords as his running mates. Mohammad Fahim and Karim Khalili have both been accused of war crimes. In Kabul, I find a family in hiding. Their story is testament to how much power many of the local warlords still wield.
ANISA
We were all asleep at home: me, my dad, my mum, and my brother. At 1 a.m., five armed men came in and started beating me.
VOICEOVER
Thirteen-year-old Anisa and her mother were raped in their home by men who were linked to a local warlord. Police arrested the men, but, according to this family, three of them were quickly let go due to their links with the warlord and a member of parliament.
ALI KHAN [Anisa's Uncle]
They have powerful supporters. They have supporters in parliament. They're warlords. The generals support them. They're all armed. We are poor and don't dare leave our house. Who will arrest them? Where is law? Where is justice?
VOICEOVER
Anisa's uncle Ali Khan is continuing the family's fight for justice. But he says he's being pressured to withdraw his testimony against the two men who remain in custody.
ALI KHAN
They openly threatened to kill me if I pressed charges.
INTERVIEWER
The member of parliament?
ALI KHAN
Yes. He threatened me.
VOICEOVER
He doesn't believe there will be any justice for women in Afghanistan while warlords like President Karzai's running mates Fahim and Khalili continue to dominate the political scene.
ALI KHAN
In my opinion, as long as these armed men exist, these armed men, these warlords and so-called mujahideen, there'll be no peace in Afghanistan. Now President Karzai is running for election with Marshal Fahim and Khalili as his deputies. They're both warlords with bad reputations. They're men who have killed two million young Afghani men. If Karzai wants to run, he should run alone, if Karzai's not the same as them.
VOICEOVER
The Karzai government's commitment to women's rights has been openly questioned since a controversial new law was passed in February. The law applied to Afghanistan's six-million-strong Shia community and stated that women could not leave the house without male permission. It also reduced women's rights in divorce proceedings and even decreed that women must be sexually available to their husbands at least four nights a week.
SAYED HUSSEIN ALEMI BALKHI [Shia Cleric]
It says in the Koran that a wife must obey her husband.
VOICEOVER
Shia member of parliament Sayed Hussein Alemi Balkhi supported the introduction of the controversial law.
SAYED HUSSEIN ALEMI BALKHI
Traditionally in Afghanistan a woman runs the household. If she wants to go out whenever she feels like it, without her husband's permission, without any logical reason, then their life will be a mess.
VOICEOVER
When the details of the law became public, there was an outcry among Afghanistan's women and international condemnation. President Karzai was forced to call for a review of the law, claiming he hadn't been fully informed.
HAMAYUN HAMIDZADA [President Karzai's Spokesman]
The President did not know the details of the law. He knew of certain details which were, you know, fine, were not controversial, but there was an oversight and things like this happen in other countries as well.
VOICEOVER
But that's not how Sayed Hussein Alemi Balkhi remembers it.
INTERVIEWER
Did President Karzai know about the details of this bill before it was passed?
SAYED HUSSEIN ALEMI BALKHI
Yes, absolutely. Because this bill went to President Karzai many times. Before it went to parliament, the cabinet's legal committee studied the bill and then took it to cabinet for approval. Cabinet, led by Karzai, approved the bill.
VOICEOVER
Spurred on by continued discrimination, young Afghan women are increasingly joining the fight for their rights.
WOMEN'S GROUP LEADER
He's just trying to pretend that he's a democrat. "I support women's rights. I believe in democracy."
VOICEOVER
This is a clandestine meeting being run by RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. It's a political action group, but, even so, these women don't want to be identified. Because of death threats, membership is kept secret.
WOMEN'S GROUP LEADER
These are basics. It's good to have laws, but not laws that trample women's rights and abuse women in general. There are many examples of such laws.
VOICEOVER
RAWA members see the recent law targeting Shia women as proof of how little attitudes have changed under President Karzai.
WOMEN'S GROUP LEADER
He's surrounded himself with fundamentalists. Parliament and cabinet are full of fundamentalists. All the government bodies consist of fundamentalists.
VOICEOVER
A symbolic victory may soon be won, with parliament set to pass new laws criminalizing violence against women. But these activists know that real cultural change will take much longer.
YOUNG GIRL
Yes, one of the things about Afghanistan is that they're only paying lip service by making laws that give men and women equal rights. On the other hand, we hear they are also making laws that trample on women's rights, as it were.
VOICEOVER
Movements like RAWA are growing, but for those brave enough to fight for women's rights, the stakes are getting higher. The Taliban have taken to targeting and assassinating activists across the country. In April this year, Sitara Achakzai, a politician and a women's rights advocate, was shot dead outside her home. And last November, Kandahar's first female police superintendent, Malalai Kakar, was murdered. The mother of six had been in charge of the Crimes Against Women Office. But, despite the dangers, women like Suraya are continuing the struggle, determined that one day their daughters will enjoy the same freedoms as other women around the world.
SURAYA PAKZAD
I have a strong commitment to help women in Afghanistan. I would like to work hard today to pave the road for the generation of Afghanistan. I would like to suffer today and sacrifice for women's rights so at least the next generation should have their voices raised.
TITLE
[end credits]