Cutting off a woman’s ears and nose seems to be the torture du jour for doing something that displeases a husband or his family. One of the most barbaric, violent and dehumanizing things one could do to a woman, it doesn’t just happen in backwards places like Afghanistan, where the torture is meted out by Taliban kangaroo courts, it has also happened in more progressive countries like Turkey. The one thing they have in common is the question of ‘honor’.
A Turkish husband, and father of four, whose wife had reported him for beating her while she was six months pregnant with their fifth child, came home after being sentenced to three months in jail, and proceeded to cut off her nose and her ears.
The same thing happened to an Afghani girl, Bibi Aisha, 19, whose ears and nose were also chopped off by her husband, this time for shaming his family. In this case, it was sanctioned by a Taliban shariah court.
Aisha has led a rough life. It all started years ago when she was only 8-years-old. As is customary in places like Afghanistan Aisha and her younger sister had been promised in marriage to a particular rival family. The Pashtuns of Afghanistan have a practice called “baad”, whereby disputes between families can be settled through marriage.
So when she was 16-years-old she was trotted on over to her husband’s family in spite of the fact he wasn’t even there. Apparently, her husband’s 10 brothers and his father were all Taliban, and hubby was in Pakistan fighting the good fight. For two years she was treated as a slave and was abused and tortured. Unable to tolerate her miserable life she ran away with the help of two women- neighbours who promised to help her. Instead of leading her to freedom in Kandahar province, she found herself in just as much trouble. In Kandahar, the women attempted to sell her, but were caught by the police.
One would think that she would now be safe in the hands of the police, but because she was a runaway, she was arrested and sentenced to 3 years in jail. In Afghanistan, although not officially considered a crime, running away can garner you prison time, if you happen to be a woman, that is. Because we all know that women are treated differently than men.
Thankfully, or not, Aisha only had to spend five months in prison after President Karzai pardoned her. I said “or not”, because her father-in-law tracked her down and she wound up being taken back to the hell hole she had run away from to begin with.
Although she had never met her husband before, he made sure he returned home so he could drag her to the Taliban court for punishment for shaming his family. It was the court that determined she deserved to have her ears and nose hacked off. So her husband willingly complied and left her to die.
“When they cut off my nose and ears, I passed out.”
Her beauty is still stunning and her confidence inspiring. It takes a moment for the barbaric act committed against her to register in your mind and sight.
“It felt like there was cold water in my nose, I opened my eyes and I couldn’t even see because of all the blood,” she remembers.
But being a survivor she lived, and is now being helped by various organizations.
And with the help of an American Provincial Reconstruction Team in Oruzgan and the organization Women for Afghan Women (WAW), she is finally getting the help and protection she needs.
Offers have been pouring in to help Aisha, but there are many more women suffering in silence.
Domestic violence in Afghanistan is running rampant. According to the U.N. almost 90 percent of women in that country are subjected to some form of domestic violence. I don’t know if that’s a result of the war, cultural and religious norms or a combination of all three, but it’s huge. And the world remains largely silent.
“Bibi Aisha is only one example of thousands of girls and women in Afghanistan and throughout the world who are treated this way – who suffer abuses like this, like this and worse,” says board member for WAW, Esther Hyneman.
In 2001, the situation of Afghan women and Taliban brutality received plenty of attention. Now organizations like WAW say the international community is strangely silent on the issue.
Hyneman says not enough is being done to help the women in Afghanistan and that feeds into the hands of the insurgency.
“When you have … 50 percent of a population on their knees, it’s very easy for extremists, tyrants to take over a country,” she adds. “They have a ready-made enslaved population.”
Where are all the feminists, women’s and human right’s activists of the world? How come they aren’t enraged about what’s happening to their sisters in Afghanistan? They’re too busy, like the Code Pinkers, demanding we get out of Afghanistan before the work is done. We pull out and the women in Afghanistan will be doomed. But I’m not sure anyone really cares. I know I do!