THE BLOG

Batul Moradi: 'A Little Light Is Better Than Absolute Darkness'

03/12/2014 12:08 pm ET | Updated May 12, 2014

Batul Moradi is a documentary filmmaker and writer. She came into the spotlight of human rights and civil society in Afghanistan by being the first woman to successfully challenge a baseless allegation of adultery made against her by her husband through the legal system.

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Photo : Khadija Moradi / Matthieu Hackière

Have your rights ever been violated?

I was forced to pursue a case through the courts and before the Independent Human Rights Commission in Afghanistan because of a human rights violation I personally experienced. I quickly found the challenges against me were enormous and I studied law in order to be able to better defend my case. I became very familiar with the judicial system in Afghanistan as a result of this case, and worked closely with many civil society organizations in pursuing the defence of my rights.

Can you tell us more about your legal case?

My husband and I divorced in 2008. After our divorce, my husband denied that he was the father of our children and publicly denounced me as an adulteress. This is an extremely serious allegation in Afghanistan. It meant that my children no longer had the right to an identity card, which gives them the basic rights to travel, to hold a passport, to vote. And for me, not only did this accusation mean I would lose my reputation and work opportunities, it could even lead to imprisonment or death by stoning.

There are many cases of Afghan men accusing their wives of adultery, but never before has a woman challenged the allegation in the courts. I knew that in falsely accusing me of adultery, my husband was actually committing the crime of Qazaf (a baseless and defamatory allegation of adultery) and that I had a right to demand the withdrawal of his accusation in the special court established by the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law. I knew I was the first to make this case, but I could never have known how much pain and harassment fighting the case would bring to my life.

My case took five years to be resolved, and only after I pushed it through all the possible avenues that I could. I endured humiliation by legal officers who said I should be "ashamed" for bringing the case. The Attorney-General accused me of committing "violence against men" by pursuing my case. I was frequently harassed by the Afghan police and even beaten by my ex-husband in front of the Independent Human Rights Commission. Finally, by using DNA evidence for the first time in Afghan history to prove the paternity of my children, I succeeded in defending my case. The court issued the maximum penalty against my ex-husband -- two years imprisonment.

This was an achievement for the Afghan civil society as a whole, because the case exposed the way these false accusations are used by many Afghan men to harass their wives. In doing so, these men intimidate women into not pursuing their rights. Women's honor is so very fragile in our society. The success of my case could even open the way for other complaints by women falsely accused; until now, nobody thought that a false accusation could be punished.

What do you see as an achievement in Afghanistan since the time of the Taliban?

A little light is better than absolute darkness. But Afghanistan today, compared to international human rights standards, is no stronger than a flickering candle. Not only women and children, but all people in Afghanistan, live in very difficult conditions with minimal respect for human rights. The denial of human rights is the most horrifying disaster faced by any society. Human beings are the most valuable assets we have. They must be valued and respected.

What do you see as a positive development in Afghanistan? What gives you hope for the future?

Although Afghanistan deserves to be recognized for its efforts to rebuild and protect peace, not enough has been done with respect to the development of culture. The government could have played a very active, constructive role, but unfortunately, it has given culture almost no attention. We can see this lack of attention when we look at the national radio and television networks: even though they receive significant funding and have good resources, they are still amongst the weakest media in Afghanistan.

Will present-day Afghanistan allow schools to once again be closed to girls and women excluded from social participation?

I cannot imagine the Afghan people as a whole ever wanting the schools to be closed to girls. There could be demand for it in small tribal or rural communities. Indeed in some areas, the schools have been closed or they are run in very restrictive ways to accord with the so-called traditional customs of a particular area. This happens in places where the government is weak and lacks sovereignty. That is why it is so important to invest in the cultural development of Afghanistan, to combat these backward norms that persist in some rural areas.

Can you give any examples of instances of human rights violations against women in your family or circle of associates?

We have all been witness to many human rights violations in Afghanistan. In particular, I saw countless violations during the time I spent in the labyrinths of Afghanistan's courts. One example I saw frequently concerns divorce cases. Custody of the child is routinely assigned to the father, usually without a thorough examination of the case or even asking questions, such as whether the father wants the child. I saw cases where children were separated from their mother and handed over to the father even though they had not reached the legal age of custody [7 for boys and 9 for girls]. For example, in one case, a child little more than one-month old was taken from its mother and handed over to the father. When the mother demanded her legal religious right[dower or mahr], the judge told her that she must file an official petition. This isn't a fair application of the law: giving custody of the children to the father also requires an official petition according to the law in Afghanistan. But the belief that children belong to the father is so strong that judges circumvent the legal procedure and hand the children directly to the father after a divorce.

In another divorce case, I saw a 13-year-old girl shouting in desperation that she had been abused by her father. The mother also gave evidence in support. Yet, when the father grabbed the girl and started to leave with her, the official security guards of the court even came to help him.

There are many different legal cases which lead to violations of human rights. It is almost impossible, for example, for an Afghan woman to seek a divorce from her husband.

Which factors deter women from participating in social, economic, political and cultural spheres?

I see economic and cultural poverty as the two main factors limiting progress by women. But women are fighting for their rights in many different ways. A woman in a remote village who demands her inheritance rights, a girl who demands the right to choose her husband and to study, a woman who seeks the right to vote, a woman who demands to be allowed to drive or to choose her own clothing: these are all women from different geographical locations, cultures, and circumstances, but they are all moving in the same direction in pursuit of their rights.

What do you wish for your daughter?

I don't have a daughter, but I try to do my part by teaching my sons that gender is not a matter that should give you power or honor, and nor should it bring you degradation and desperation. It is no different to other personal attributes, such as the color of your skin, your ethnicity, the language you speak, and differences in your appearance: none of these things are criteria for superiority and status. Respecting the rights of others is essential.

"Unveiling Afghanistan, the Unheard Voices of Progress" is a campaign by Armanshahr/OPEN ASIA and FIDH, which explores views held by Afghan civil society actors. Over 50 days, 50 influential social, political, and cultural actors hope to spark conversation and debate about building a society that is inclusive of women's and human rights in Afghanistan.

You can read original interviews in Dari on Armanshahr/OPEN ASIA