Women everywhere fight for their rights — but women in Afghanistan have it particularly bad.
BBC reporter Jane Corbin was invited by a French charity, based in Herat, Afghanistan, that treats women who have self-immolated. Most of these women set fire to themselves to escape a forced marriage or a violent husband. In the photo above, a woman comforts her 20-year-old daughter in the hospital. In an attempted suicide to protest a forced marriage to an elderly man and escape rumors of an affair with a younger one, she set fire to herself and now suffers from burns over 85 percent of her body.
Although women were promised equality and human rights by the introduction of democracy, a new constitution, and President Hamid Karzai’s presidency in 2004, the reality of their situation is still bleak.
Sixty percent of women are still forced into marriage as children, sometimes as young as nine or 10. Since Westerners intervened, this was supposed to have changed under a law that stated girls under 16 should not be married. But police don't always investigate the crimes, and male judges often reduce the sentences of men guilty of harming women.
Some women are standing up to the Taliban, which is trying to turn back any minuscule gains women may have from new leadership. Prosecutor Maria Bashir, who requires security guards and has survived bombing attacks, is trying to protect women from men even though laws are supposed to do this. Bashir does this even though it puts her family in danger — the son of another lawyer was beheaded by people who thought he was her son.
A news story today makes an Afghan woman's plight almost unthinkable: a law has passed that allows a man to starve his wife if she refuses his sexual demands. Some accuse Karzai of allowing this barbaric law to pass so that he can get support from the conservative Shia support in next week’s presidential election.
There is a sliver of hope: there are women activists like Bashir who risk their lives fighting for women’s rights and, in spite of an 80 percent illiteracy rate among Afghan women, girls still dream of going to school and having a career.