On February 27, 2011, the New York Times published an article “Abuse Often Follows Afghans to America,” about how women from Afghanistan, who are abused in their own country, still suffer extreme domestic abuse when they come to the United States. Women immigrating to the United States from Afghanistan are often joining their husbands who already have come to the United States. These women are “thrilled about the prospect of a new American life,” but often that dream is shattered when they arrive in the United States. How, and why, is this so?
About 10 years ago, the Taliban was overthrown in Afghanistan, and an influential women’s rights movement began. However, women are still violently subjugated in Afghan culture by both their husbands and their husbands’ families.
A Queens organization dedicated to advocacy for Afghan women experiencing domestic abuse, Women for Afghan Women, reports an increase in the number of Afghan women suffering from abuse by both their husbands and husbands’ families.
The number of domestic abuse cases regarding women from Afghanistan is substantially under-reported, mostly because these women are afraid to report the abuse. Abuse of women has become engrained in Afghan culture, and, upon coming to the United States, Afghan women feel isolated in their new country. These women are far from their families, unable to speak English effectively, fearful of authorities, and entirely dependent on their husbands and in-laws. In particular, the New York Times article discussed a woman whose in-laws “serve[d] as the husband’s proxy.” Not only would they order her around in a slave-like manner, but the husband’s family members also brutally beat this woman and then forced her to lie to hospital officials about the cause of her injuries.
Most importantly, Afghan women are unaware of their legal rights. In Afghanistan, a woman is considered the property of her husband. The women do not leave the abusive situations because they have nowhere else to turn and believe that this type of life is inescapable. One Afghan women interviewed by the New York Times said that being in an abusive familial situation is better than living alone or returning to Afghanistan (because, in Afghanistan, she would be “ridiculed for being a divorcee”). These women are fearful of the shame they will feel if they come forward about the abuse, which is a major fear that prevents most abuse victims, whether from Afghanistan or not, from coming forward to get help.
What do we do about this situation? While, undoubtedly, these women do not deserve to be in extremely abusive situations, it is difficult to provide help for them because it may be seen as disrespect for Afghan culture and religious beliefs. Women for Afghan Women offers a middle-ground for helping women while still respecting their cultural and religious norms.