December 20, 2017
Any Afghan woman can tell you that sexual harassment is widespread in Afghanistan. A 2016 study found 90 percent of the 346 women and girls interviewed said they had experienced sexual harassment in public places, 91 percent in educational environments, and 87 percent at work. This is not news to my friend Soraya (a pseudonym), a lawyer working in Kabul trying to improve access to justice for women.
Several months ago, she and I observed a rape trial. As is often the case in Afghanistan, the session took place in the cramped judge’s chambers, with witnesses for the prosecution and defence, and both families present. It was a crowded, tense scene; everyone was anxiously awaiting the final evidence and the verdict.
Everyone except the judge. As he waited for the paperwork, he tossed questions at Soraya. Apparently trying to impress her, he boasted of becoming a judge after cheating on his bar exam. He beckoned her over, and handed her his phone. Soraya told me that he asked her for her phone number and pressured her to friend him on Facebook.