One local reporter asked, “If this is not considered a crime and it becomes rampant in the society and everyone does it, don’t you think that in a society like Afghanistan it will lead to a kind of anarchism here and everything will get out of control? What will be the consequences?”
Several questions later, another local reporter closed his question saying, “I think that to prosecute running away with strangers, it helps families to be more organized and it fortifies the family relationships in Afghanistan, so I think it is better for Afghanistan to prosecute this crime.”
While far from representative of all the local media in attendance, such responses, especially from Afghan journalists who are considered among some of the more educated people in Afghanistan, underscore the difficulty of challenging the status quo here.
To be certain, women have seen marked progress since the NATO-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime in 2001. There are now more than 2.4 million girls enrolled in school compared with just 5,000 during the Taliban’s rule. Women are also engaged in civic life as politicians and many have managed to get jobs outside their homes.
Still, women's status has a long way to go in Afghanistan. As the HRW report points out, among other problems, fewer than half of girls are enrolled in school, and every two hours an Afghan girl dies of pregnancy-related causes.
There are also high-profile abuse cases, like a woman named Gulnaz who was imprisoned after police found out she was raped and impregnated. She received a pardon from President Hamid Karzai only after her case received international attention. After her release, she told the media that she would likely marry her rapist to avoid the shame associated with having an illegitimate child.
“The situation of women in Afghanistan today is precarious. There has been progress around women’s education, women’s access to medical care, women’s ability to travel and to work. That’s all good, but the question is [how] we preserve that and can we improve upon it?” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, speaking to reporters on Wednesday.