"The [families] had a conflict over some land, and my brother killed one of them. Then a jirga [tribal assembly] was called and the jirga decided that my family should give me [to the victim's family] for a bad marriage," Hamida said.
Ancient Pashtun tradition dictates that when a man is killed or severely injured in a conflict between two families or tribes, the local jirga -- an assembly of tribal elders and influential residents -- steps in to resolve the dispute. The jirga often orders the assailant's family to pay a "blood price," by forcing a female relative to wed a member of the victim's family. Sometimes girls as young as a few months old are named as a family's blood price, and are married once they grow up.
There are no statistics indicating how many Pashtun women in Afghanistan are now in bad marriages. But according to Shukriya Barekzai, the editor of an Afghan women's magazine and a member of the former Constitutional Review Commission, the number is significant.
Tribal member Abdulwali Ahmadyar defends the tradition as a "good solution to tribal conflicts, which puts an end to rivalries and animosity between families and tribes." But Hamida, the 24-year-old wife in a bad marriage, says her forced union has not brought peace to the two families. Instead, her in-laws see her simply as the sister of the man who murdered their son, and the enmity between the two families remains. "My life is awful now," she said. "In my parents' house, I used to go to school; I completed the 10th grade. My new family does not allow me to go to school. I do housework all day. They do not allow me to visit my parents. The two families do not visit each other. The animosity still goes on."
Pashtun tribal culture puts strict limits on women's behavior. For example, a widow who wishes to remarry may do so only if she chooses as her groom a brother or close relative of her late husband. While men are free to have more than one wife, divorce is regarded as deeply shameful and is almost nonexistent.
Shukriya Barekzai says Afghanistan's civil laws are unlikely to take the place of tribal laws anytime soon. Even in the case of murder, tribal crimes are usually resolved by the local jirga -- not by the police or other civilian authorities. Barekzai says it may take years to eliminate those tribal traditions that represent a clear violation of human rights. "In Afghan society, it is impossible to officially abolish the bad-marriage tradition, a tradition that violates women's rights," she said. "I hope in the distant future we will be able to eliminate the tradition from people's minds, using religion and official propaganda. But I have to say that in the near future, [abolishing the tradition] is just a dream."
The new Afghan government has said respect for women's rights is a key element of its platform, and that it will provide Afghan women with opportunities to work and study. The country's new constitution requires that at least two women from each province should serve in parliament, and also paves the way for a woman to eventually serve as one of the country's two vice presidents.
In reality, however, it seems as thought traditional Afghan society has a long way to go before men and women are treated as equal citizens.