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Research on family violence and harmful practices in Afghanistan

Determining what customs or traditional practices are considered as harmful in Afghanistan is complex. For example, hardly anybody will protest against the fact that most marriages are ‘arranged marriages’, and many of these marriages are 'happy marriages'. Women indicate that according to their traditions, arranged marriages are no problem as long as ‘the best interests of sons and daughters are respected’ and the woman has had at least the ‘possibility’ to refuse the candidate chosen by her parents or other family members. Drawing strict lines between ‘forced’, ’arranged’ and ’free’ marriage would oversimplify the range of factors that determine how a marriage is set up in Afghanistan. Marriage is traditionally a family concern and not a matter of individual right.

The research shows that most reported harmful practices are related to violent behavior within and between families. Take early marriages for example, which also includes agreements between families that their children will marry together to avoid dowry costs or to strengthen the relation between families. Another example is the notion that widows need to marry a relative of the deceased husband. In some areas where the research was conducted the vending of women and/or girls is still frequently reported. But also other harmful practices outside the direct realm of the family are taking place. Such as the limited access for women and girls to health facilities and schools, drug abuse among men, women and even children (predominantly opium and tranquilizers) and high dowry prices asked by the family of a woman due to the worsening economic situation. The practices mentioned are closely interlinked and many people will suffer from a combination of these problems.

In order to achieve a reduction of violence and harmful practices, resulting in the improvement of the living conditions of Afghan women, it is necessary that key messages about the negative impact of harmful practices have to be disseminated on a broad scale in order change the behaviour of people. According to most respondents that took part in this research it is possible to realize this change. But imposed changes by external agents can have a contradictory effect. As family, religion, traditions and informal relationships play an important role in Afghan society, recognition must be given to the significance of family life, the Islam, community preconditions and local social orders. Programme implementers like NGOs, psychosocial workers and other agents have to keep in mind that social cultural factors are of major importance when working on issues like this rather than attempting to ignore or displace them.






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TV spot 1: A woman who suffers from family violence tries to talk with her husband; unexpectedly she gets the support from het her mother-in-law which is quite unusual in Afghanistan; mothers-in-law are often the perpetrators of violence against their daughters-in-law. Having themselves been suppressed in their youth, they often encourage the repression of their son’s wives.

TV spot 2: A young girl hears that her family is planning to marry her to a rich man in return for money. The girl gets the support from her father who succeeds in convincing the other family members to abandon this idea. Selling women for monetary gain is not as common as years ago but is still frequently reported in Afghanistan. 

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