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Editorial: Sexual abuse quandary

The sexual molestation allegations leveled by Habibullah Ahmadzai, a former presidential aide, against the Presidential Palace provoked a severe public outcry across the country in May. The silence was finally broken when subsequently the Attorney General’s Office asked religious scholars, media and women to introduce their representatives to observe an independent investigation into allegations made by Ahmadzai. However, new sexual allegations popped up from BBC’s July 11th report that further substantiated the charges when it interviewed six women who described the culture of abuse in Afghanistan and the exchange of sexual favors for government appointments. Another case in point was when a scandal last year uncovered sexual abuse of female football players by high-ranking officials in the Afghan Football Federation. Five officials were suspended, including Afghan Soccer Chief, Keramuddin Keram, who was barred for life, and FIFA launched its own investigation. Despite arrest warrant, he is out of bars. While being rocked by incriminating remarks of sexual harassment at the highest levels yet again, the government leadership has so far remained tight-lipped on this issue. It orders inquiries that never see the light of day. Earlier, there have been such allegations that ministries are rife with sexual harassment and that high-level officials are exploiting their positions, but this time they are severely being heated up and surfaced at a time when President Ghani’s official mandate in office came to an end on May 22 – with the presidential elections also being on the cards. So what’s cooking? Something does surely smell fishy. President Ghani’s aide brushed aside these claims as “false and baseless”, and rather accused Ahmadzai as an opportunist, saying he made irresponsible remarks when President Ghani did not accept him to be his advisor for the second time. Nonetheless, the President hasn’t bothered to address this critical issue. He might be awaiting the results of the probe or is he shocked by these charges? It’s a precarious moment for women in Afghanistan. They are going to have a say in ongoing peace talks between the United States and the Taliban group. Women here, at least in some parts of the country, have come a long way since the Taliban repressive regime overthrown in 2001. But this progress will be undermined if sexual harassment at the heart of government [Presidential Palace] goes unpunished. Surprisingly, women suffer widespread discrimination in Afghanistan, which ranks 168th out of 189 countries in the United Nations Gender Inequality Index. This culture of impunity should be dealt seriously. The perpetrators feel protected within this government and that’s why nobody fears the consequences and continues to commit such offenses. On the government’s part, it shouldn’t take such national issues lightly. The public needs to hear the truth and whether they can trust the rhetorical speeches of government leaders who always speak of women’s rights. If women are subject to such nasty doings, then why do we talk of their progress over the past 18 years? Moreover, in the wake of ongoing peace talks, one of the described red lines is assurances of women’s rights and their proper treatment by the Taliban – in case of a prospective peace deal in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, in such a critical moment what kind of example is the government setting; at least it should save face by doing something worthwhile. These scandals have already become headlines globally, something that absolutely doesn’t bode well for the government.

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