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Jailed Afghan woman freed but must marry rapist

The solution holds grave risks for Gulnaz,since the man could kill his accuser,despite the risk of prosecution,or abuse her again.

Written by New York Times | Kabul |
December 4, 2011 12:34:52 am

When the Hamid Karzai government announced Thursday that it would pardon a woman who had been imprisoned for adultery after she reported that she had been raped,the decision seemed a clear victory for the many women here whose lives have been ground down by the Afghan justice system.

But when the announcement also made it clear that there was an expectation that the woman,Gulnaz,would agree to marry the man who raped her,the moment revealed the ways in which even efforts guided by the best intentions to redress violence against women run up against the limits of change in a society where cultural practices are so powerful that few can resist them,not even the president.

The solution holds grave risks for Gulnaz,since the man could kill his accuser,despite the risk of prosecution,or abuse her again.

Indeed,what prompted the government to act at all was a grass-roots movement that began after Gulnaz was featured in a documentary film commissioned by the European Union,which then blocked the film’s release.

While Gulnaz’s pardon is a victory for both Clementine Malpas,the filmmaker,and Kimberley Motley,an American lawyer who took up the case pro bono,it also shows how odds are stacked against women in the justice system.

Gulnaz’s case shows the power of cultural norms. On the one hand,the campaign for Gulnaz prompted the pardon,which ensures that she will be able to bring up her daughter outside jail. On the other,the fact that the only imaginable solution to the issue of a woman with an illegitimate child is to have her marry the father “even if he is a rapist” is testament to the belief that she is respectable only if she is embedded within a family.

Malpas said Gulnaz talked to her about why she felt she had to give in,even though she did not want to,explaining that not only would she be an outcast if she did not marry the man,but so would her daughter,and she would bring shame on her family.

“Gulnaz said,‘My rapist has destroyed my future,’” Malpas said. “‘No one will marry me after what he has done to me. So I must marry my rapist for my child’s sake. I don’t want people to call her a bastard and abuse my brothers. My brothers won’t have honour in our society until he marries me.’” ALISSA J RUBIN

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