A young Afghan woman jailed for adultery after reporting that she was raped by her cousin's husband has now been forced to marry her attacker in order to restore her family's "honor."
The Timesreports that the 22-year-old woman, known only by her first name, Gulnaz, married her rapist in Kabul after spending 13 months in confinement for adultery. Gulnaz has also given birth to a baby conceived during the rape.
At age 19, Gulnaz was found guilty of extramarital sex and sentenced to 12 years in prison. In December 2011, Gulnaz was given a terrible choice: either marry her attacker or serve the time behind bars under the strict brand of Islamic law practiced in Afghanistan despite the ouster of the Taliban by the US-led NATO invasion and occupation of the country.
The illiterate teen ended up confined to a women's shelter for 13 months. She agreed to the marriage deal offered to her and was released.
"I was asked if I wanted to start a new life by getting released, by marrying this man," she told CNN. "My answer was that the one man dishonored me, and I want to stay with that man."
The path chosen by Gulnaz was fraught with danger. There was a good chance that she would be killed, either by her own family or by her rapist, to preserve 'honor.' 'Honor killings' remain common in Afghanistan despite the modernizing effect removing the Taliban was supposed to have. Gulnaz's life may still be in danger; even if she is spared, there is a chance she will be enslaved as her attacker's second wife.
Kimberly Motley, Gulnaz's American lawyer, told the Times that she remains worried for the woman's safety and that her client was "systematically brainwashed" by Afghan officials, including women, into accepting the marriage deal. Motley also said that Gulnaz has also been prevented from obtaining the documents necessary to apply for asylum outside Afghanistan.
Gulnaz may not have been saved from a lengthy prison term if it weren't for the global attention her case attracted, which forced Afghan President Hamid Karzai to intervene and secure the 'deal' for her. The young woman's supporters claim that she only accepted the arrangement reluctantly and under duress and that a woman should never be forced to make such a decision in any society that respects basic human rights.
Clementine Malpas, a British filmmaker who directed a documentary about Gulnaz' plight, told the Times that the young woman agreed to the marriage so that her baby daughter would have a better life.
"Marrying the man she told us had raped her isn't what we had hoped for Gulnaz but the current cultural context of Afghanistan leaves very few options, especially for a woman with a child out of wedlock," Malpas said.
Indeed, even the few areas of success in the advancement of women's rights in Afghanistan may soon be rolled back as foreign forces prepare to withdraw from the country by the end of next year.
Women and girls are still very much treated as second-class citizens in Afghanistan. In one particularly horrific incident last October, a 20-year-old woman named Mah Gul was murdered and beheaded, allegedly by her mother-in-law and her cousin, for refusing to be coerced into prostitution.
Afghan girls who attempt to pursue their educations have been victims of schoolhouse arson and bombing attacks, poisonings and battery acid attacks.
Girls are also targeted by the Taliban in Pakistan. Malala Yousafzai, a 15-year-old Pakistan girl who advocated for girls' education, was shot in the head and neck by Taliban assassins while she rode a bus home from school. She survived the attack, thanks to surgery and treatment in the UK, and just days ago announced she is creating a fund to support the empowerment of girls in her country.