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Afghan Women Rally Against Gender-Based Violence

Afghans Join In Worldwide Protest Against Domestic Violence
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Chants of "We want justice, we want social equality" are not often heard on the streets of Kabul, especially not from women, but today was not just any day.

Hundreds of Afghan women took to the streets of the capital and other Afghan cities on February 14 in a show of solidarity against violence and discrimination against women.

It was all part of the festivities linked to One Billion Rising, a global campaign in which millions of women and activists rose up against gender-based violence by marching, dancing, singing, and playing music.

Millions of Afghan women regained their rights to education and work following the fall of the hard-line Taliban regime more than a decade ago. However, according to rally participant Suraya Parlika, domestic abuse and violations of women's rights are still widespread in Afghan society.

"A lack of women's access to education, selling women in the name of marriage, marrying off girls to settle family feuds, and early marriages -- are among many problems Afghan women face today," Parlika said.

"We raise our voices against these violations today as we mark the day against gender violence."

Crimes Against Women Ignored

Afghanistan's Independent Commission for Human Rights says violence against women in the country has risen by at least 30 percent in the past year. The commission says it has recorded over 4,000 cases of violence against women this year, including domestic abuse and forced marriages.

The rally organizers say violence against women is underreported because of cultural taboos, and that in many crimes against women -- such as rape -- perpetrators are never brought to justice.

Palwasha Hassan, a rally organizer, emphasized the importance of such events to raise people's awareness regarding women's rights and roles in family and society. "Our rally might not have an immediate impact, but it will bring results in the longer run," Hassan said.

"Such gatherings contribute to society's awareness of the issue," Hassan added. "Media will cover this event, and people will see us marching in the streets, and at the very least they would think, 'Why does violence against women take place in Afghanistan or elsewhere in the world?'"

Similar gatherings took place in several other Afghan cities, including Herat, Ghor, and Bamyan.

Rallies Around The World

Women's rights activists say one in three women in the world face violence such as rape and beatings in their lifetimes.

Spearheaded by American playwright and feminist Eve Ensler, the One Billion Rising campaign calls on 1 billion people to rise against violence and take a stand for the some 1 billion victims of gender-based abuse.

In the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, some 300 people took part in a rally to condemn the abuse of women. Women and men danced as rising Kyrgyz star Saltanat Ahyrova performed a song calling for an end to violence.

Rallies were held on February 14 in New Zealand, the Philippines, and India. Many more were expected to take place across Europe and North America.

The events also mark the 15th anniversary of Ensler's V-day movement, which has reportedly raised more than $80 million for antiviolence projects implemented across the globe.

Written and reported by Farangis Najibullah, with contributions by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan and Kyrgyz Service
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