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Sosan's Story: Domestic Violence in Afghanistan
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Sosan's Story: Domestic Violence in Afghanistan
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Afghanistan: Women Arise

Eight years after the fall of the Taliban, targeted violence against women in Afghanistan is back at an alarming level. Women of all ages are enduring brutal physical and sexual abuse in their own homes. A few lucky ones find their way to one of only six shelters in the country. We visited one of them. 

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Produced by UN 21st Century.

Learn more about the UN Development Fund for Women's efforts to improve the quality of life for women in Afghanistan.

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Segment 1

DALJIT DHALIWAL
Eight years after the fall of the Taliban, targeted violence against women in Afghanistan is back at an alarming level. Women of all ages are enduring brutal physical and sexual abuse in their own homes. A few lucky ones find their way to one of only six shelters in the country. We visited one of them.
VOICEOVER
It's breakfast time for the residents of the only shelter for battered women and girls in Herat, Afghanistan. Eighteen women and ten children live here. Each of their stories is unique but they have all suffered abuse, at the hands of their husbands, fathers, brothers, and even mothers-in-law.
SOSAN
He tried to kill me with electric shock. My brother is his brother-in-law and they are all in this together.
VOICEOVER
This is a story about Sosan, who at age 35 is a mother of seven. Her husband and his family tried to kill her more than once because they suspected that she was having an affair. The United Nations says over 87 percent of all Afghan women suffer from domestic abuse, making Afghanistan one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman.
SOSAN
They injected me with poison and I had such reaction that my hands were numb and I nearly died. There are police reports of all of this. They brought the mullah to say prayers for my passing away, and they even obtained my death certificate.
VOICEOVER
Sosan's ex-husband admits that he, his brother, and their 15-year-old son tried to electrocute her, a horrific fact he does not deny.
EX-HUSBAND
I tortured her, with my son.
VOICEOVER
Sosan escaped with her three youngest children and came to the shelter. This kind of abuse and violence against Afghan women has roots in almost three decades of conflict in this vast and arid land in Central Asia. After the Soviet occupation, a long and brutal civil war ensued. Fueled by opium money, groups of Afghan Islamic fighters, or mujahideen, fought for power culminating in the Taliban finally taking control of most of the country by 1996. The next five years were marked by extreme Islamic policies, especially when it came to women and their position in the society. Today, eight years later, mistreatment of women continues.
WENNY KUSUMA [UNIFEM]
In Afghanistan what we see, in the last year especially, is a rise in the return of public acceptance of violence against women to the degree where it was under the Taliban.
VOICEOVER
Wenny Kusuma from the UN Development Fund for Women, UNIFEM, in Afghanistan.
WENNY KUSUMA
What we're seeing is a targeted, pre-meditated approach to intimidation, fear, waging intimidation and fear against the public at large and women in particular.
VOICEOVER
What's different now is that women and their families are starting to speak out about domestic violence. Long a taboo subject, many Afghan women used to feel suicide was the only way out.
NARGES [nurse]
I tend to their wounds. I also dispense medication if needed.
VOICEOVER
The shelter's nurse Narges helps the lucky ones that survive and make it here.
NARGES
Women who come here sometimes suffer from burn wounds because they tried to commit suicide by putting themselves on fire.
VOICEOVER
Afghan women and girls are married at a young age, often against their own will. Many run away and some find refuge at shelters like this one. Here, through role-play, they are taught that they actually do have a say in who they will marry and when.
ROLE-PLAY
(Bride): Are you going to force me to marry him? I don't love him. / (Mother): You must! / (Groom): I will pay seven million Afghanis. / (Bride): I don't care about his money. I don't want to live with somebody like him for the rest of my life. I will NOT marry this man!
VOICEOVER
Sosan, who also married in her teenage years, says that she suffered years of physical abuse only because she's a woman.
SOSAN
The brutalities I have endured, not just once but hundreds of times. It's like fire burning inside my chest. I have spent half of my life in abuse. I wanted to kill myself.
VOICEOVER
Now Sosan is divorced but she says her husband owes her money. Today the shelter's legal counselor will mediate between Sosan and her husband. During the session, Sosan makes a case for receiving money for land that rightfully belongs to her.
SOSAN
He ought to pay me for the 18 years that I slaved at his house. Was I just a slave to him?
VOICEOVER
Because her husband was poor, Sosan bought the land they lived on from her own father with the money she earned working as a seamstress.
EX-HUSBAND
Yes, she earned the money, but I worked on the land. It was my hard labor.
VOICEOVER
With no woman in the house and left to care for their four older sons, Sosan's ex-husband is reconsidering their divorce.
EX-HUSBAND
I forgive her, since she didn't have any relations with other men or acted in a way that would make the family look bad. I'm grateful to her. I want her to come and be with her kids. That's what I want. I don't want my kids to be without their mother. If I take another wife, she will never be the mother to her kids.
SOSAN
Even though my husband divorced me, my brothers were going to kill me for being divorced. For soiling their name and their honor. If this place weren't here, where would we have gone?

Segment 2

SURAYA PAKZAD [Executive Director of the Voice of Women Organization]
It is a place for shelterless women, for women at risk, and for women who don't have anyone.
VOICEOVER
Suraya Pakzad, the Executive Director of the Voice of Women Organization, recognized the need for a safe haven in her hometown of Herat a few years ago.
SURAYA PAKZAD
Girls, women run away from domestic violence, run away from forced and child marriages, come to the shelter.
VOICEOVER
Hers is just one of six UNIFEM-supported shelters in Afghanistan. Here, women like Sosan learn skills such as sewing and weaving. Most importantly, they are given the opportunity to learn to read and write, many for the first time in their lives.
WENNY KUSUMA
Nowhere else in the world have I personally encountered such a compelling need for basic social services.
VOICEOVER
Kusuma says it's a sign of progress that even a few shelters for battered women have opened in recent years. But it still takes a lot of courage to run one.
SURAYA PAKZAD
When I receive a death threat, I stop coming to the office; I work two or three days at home just to pretend that I am not in the city.
WENNY KUSUMA
In no other place in the world does serving as a women's human rights defender place you at greater risk.
VOICEOVER
Shelters like this one are criticized as anti-Islamic because disputes in the traditional Afghan society are mediated within the family with the help of tribal elders. It is taboo for women to seek justice outside.
WENNY KUSUMA
It's not just shelters. It's a woman-specific space and activity that is not in the home. Typically, that places women at risk of being accused of prostitution, being accused of immoral behavior.
SOSAN
His objective is to kill me. That is why he wants me back.
VOICEOVER
As much as the shelter wants women to return to their parents or male members of their families, Sosan won't consider going back.
SOSAN
There is no way that I want to go there. He tortured me with electric shock. It was God that gave me a second chance to live. My feet are finally healed. Look at them! He put two exposed wires to kill me.
VOICEOVER
Since living without a man is not acceptable in the Afghan society, it has been suggested that Sosan should reconcile and live together with her oldest son, the same son who took part in the attempt to kill her.
VOICEOVER
Because Sosan refuses to return to her son or husband, she is losing custody of her seven-year-old boy. He is forced to go live with his father, as mandated by Afghan tradition.
SOSAN
His father is cruel, violent, and unloving. So he kept crying, "God help me, I won't go and live with my father."
WENNY KUSUMA
Far as you're addressing issues of custody and the rights of parents, we do have to deal with laws that have uneven and unfair impact on women and their rights as, in this case, mothers.
VOICEOVER
But there are encouraging signs of improvement. The President of Afghanistan recently signed a groundbreaking decree criminalizing violence against women. As a result of the shelter's mediation, Sosan received the equivalent of USD$10,000 for the disputed land. But since her father disowned her, and with no other family member to live with, she can't use the money to rent a house and live with her two young daughters, who are allowed to stay with her.
SOSAN
I can't leave the shelter, I can't go anywhere. The only way for me to leave the shelter is to marry again. I have half of my life left. I just want to live the rest of my life for me, on my terms. This is a basic human right.
DALJIT DHALIWAL
Since filming this story, Sosan has married another man, but her leaving the shelter comes at a terrible price: she was forced to give up her daughters. They now live with her ex-husband. That's all for this edition of 21st Century. I'm Daljit Dhaliwal. We'll see you next time. Until then, goodbye.
TITLE
21st Century: A production of United Nations Television Department of Public Information