The lives of Afghanistan's women have changed little five years after the fall of the Taliban, according to a new report by a UK-based women's rights group.
Womankind Worldwide found violence against women is still endemic - and the number of women setting fire to themselves because they cannot bear their lives is rising dramatically.
Afghan women queue to receive food aid from the World Food Programmme in Kabul October 30, 2006. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood (AFGHANISTAN)
The iconic images of women throwing off their burqas after the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 were always a fiction. Except among a small elite in Kabul, the overwhelming majority of women in Afghanistan are still forced to cover their entire bodies and faces.
The report's researchers found that very little has changed. Between 60 and 80 per cent of all marriages in Afghanistan are forced. As many as 57 per cent of girls are married off below the age of 16, some as young as six. Because of the custom of paying a bride price, marriage is essentially a financial transaction, and girls a commodity.
The custom of baad, when girls and women are exchanged to settle debts and disputes, is still widely practised. The women are not treated as proper wives, but in effect are slave workers for their husbands.
Honour killing is also still widespread. Women are killed for dishonouring their families through "crimes" such as even being seen associating with a man. A family member kills the woman.
Even women who have been raped cannot report the crime because they risk being prosecuted for having sex outside marriage.
The Taliban were vilified for denying girls education, but even now only 19 per cent of Afghan schools are for girls and only 5 per cent of girls of secondary school age are enrolled.
And the West cannot blame the Taliban, as many of the abuses take place in the north and west, where the Taliban are not active.
In the north-east, where the Taliban never had control, a woman dies every 20 minutes in childbirth.
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited