By Golnaz Esfandiari
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
July 13, 2016
Dozens of young Afghans have protested in the capital and demanded government action to end the plague of acid attacks on women in Afghanistan’s conservative, male-dominated society.
Violent abuse of women is relatively widespread in the country, where Amnesty International says the Ministry of Women’s Affairs registered more than 4,000 cases of violence against women in the last nine months of 2015.
In addition to entrenched male bias against the country’s 16 million women, Afghanistan remains racked by a conflict pitting central government forces and their international supporters against fundamentalist Islamist militants who reject even basic rights such as education for women and girls.
The acid attacks can be fatal but are more typically aimed at permanently disfiguring the victims.
The July 12 demonstration was held outside the Independence (Esteghlal) Hospital in Kabul, where several victims of acid attacks are currently being treated for burns.
About 30 protesters, young men and women, held signs that read, “Where is my face?” “Being a woman is my only crime,” and, “For what crime do you throw acid on my face?” among other things.
Twenty-two-year-old Afghan rapper Elina attended the protest with bandages on her face and covered in a burqa to symbolize the violence that frequently targets even women who are covered up according to the strictest interpretation of Islam.
She sang a song condemning violence against women.
The rapper told reporters that she was horrified to learn about the acid attacks and immediately contacted her friends to take action.
A woman and two girls were targeted last week in a central district of Kabul by an unknown attacker who poured acid on them.
One of the victims, Nafiseh Nouri, was quoted by the BBC as saying a man targeted her and her relatives while they were returning home.
“An individual came from the other side of the street, he threw acid at my face, then he threw acid on the face and hands of my girls,” she said.
Nouri said she believes she was targeted simply because she is a woman.
The police said they are working to identify and arrest the individual behind the attack, although many such crimes reportedly go unpunished even when the perpetrators are known to the victims.
The Amnesty International report said that “violence against women was severely under-reported in Afghanistan due to insecurity, lack of a functioning government or judiciary, and traditional practices which combined to discourage victims and their families from reporting violence.”
Violence against women is an epidemic that extends well beyond Afghanistan in the region, with Pakistan’s authorities also grappling with public outrage over so-called honor killings of sisters and daughters and acid attacks against women.