The latest victims of the Afghan war on women were a 30-year-old woman named Serata and her eight-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter, all of whom had their heads cleaved from their bodies by Serata’s divorced husband, Mohammad Arif.
While Serata appeared to be the sole target of Arif’s revenge, according to Afghan police, after her children saw their father burst into their home in Ghazni province and “take their mother’s head off, he killed them too.”
Serata and her children’s horrific deaths were prompted because she had apparently “dishonored” Arif’s familial reputation by divorcing him last year after suffering through a decade of abuse, a stain so great that it necessitated Arif’s act of bloody vengeance.
Sadly, this horrific crime appears to be only the latest in a rapidly growing wave of “honor killings” plaguing Afghan women and girls, a swell that saw 17 such killings reported across Afghanistan in March and April alone.
Those cases include a 22-year-old woman choked to death by her husband in Kunduz province; a 40-year-old woman beheaded by her husband in Khost province; and a 26-year-old woman in Baghlan province who was first choked to death and then burned up with boiling hot water.
Like Serata, seeking a divorce can lead a woman to her death at the hands of an aggrieved husband or relative. Yet women slated for honor killings can also include those who have married a man of their own choosing; had any contact with an unrelated male; dated a Christian; openly flirted; or adopted Western ways of dress and behavior.
However, acts over which a woman has no control, such as being the victim of rape, can also provoke an honor killing.
In February, Estorai, a 22-year-old mother of two, was strangled to death by her husband for her failure to produce a male offspring. Unhappy that their firstborn was a girl, Estorai’s husband had warned that he would kill her if she gave him another daughter, a deadly promise he kept within weeks after Estorai gave birth to their second daughter.
In June, Gulsika, a 20-year-old woman in Kandahar province, was shot by her husband for her failure to conceive, even though doctors who had examined her said it was her husband — and not Gulsika — who was the one unable to have children.
Yet, while the rise in Afghan honor killings has been on a meteoric rise of late, overall violent attacks on women and girls throughout Afghanistan have also dramatically increased.
To some, the resurgence in violence has been attributed to the Taliban extending its reach across Afghanistan and bringing with them the brutal yoke it had placed on Afghan women during its five-year rule of the country from 1996 -2001.
That Taliban reign subjected Afghan women to a Hobbesian nightmare of public floggings and executions if they, among other things, failed to wear a head-to-toe burqa; worked outside their homes or even left their homes unaccompanied by a close male relative; laughed loudly; or were photographed or filmed.
This Taliban-brand of female stewardship was on display in a gruesome video recently taken in a village in Parwan province in which a Taliban member is seen shooting a kneeling woman accused of adultery five times in the head with an automatic rifle.
Before the shots struck the women’s head, a male voice in the background intoned, “Allah warns us not to get close to adultery because it’s the wrong way. It is the order of Allah that she be executed.” To that refrain, a cheering throng of over 150 male villagers chanted, “Long live the Afghan mujahideen!”
It should be noted that while the woman had been charged with the “crime” of adultery, she was in fact the discarded pawn of two Taliban commanders, both of whom had been sexually involved with her before deciding to torture her and then kill her to settle a dispute between the two of them.
Yet, while the Taliban may indeed be largely responsible for the latest rise in violence, the actions of the brutal Islamists are being abetted by the many Muslim men in Afghanistan who have long been treating women and girls little better than human chattel.
The UN reports that nearly 90 percent of Afghan women suffer from some form of domestic violence. That abuse includes being given away to pay family debts or settle disputes as well as forced child marriage, the latter practice which has led to over half of the marriages in Afghanistan involving girls under the age of 16.
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