“Like a Bird with Broken Wings”: new report from Afghanistan

UN Women Report chronicles stories of violence suffered by Afghan women through the decades of conflict.

Date: 24 Dec 2013

Afghan report on sexual violence against women cover page


The untold stories of Afghan women who have suffered great violence in the past three decades of the country’s turbulent history have been documented by UN Women in a report produced by its Country office in Afghanistan. The report provides a “voice to those denied a place in official history” and chronicles the personal memories and recollections of women who have either experienced sexual and physical violence, witnessed that of a close family member, or indirectly suffered as a consequence of it, during the years of conflict. 

Harrowing tales of sexual violence during the years of conflict are a grim reminder of the suffering that Afghan women have experienced. As one woman puts it: “We have all suffered.”

The testimonies contained in the report cover the timespan between 1978, when Soviet Union tanks rolled into Afghanistan, up until 2008. The reporting itself took place between December 2007 and June 2008 in seven provinces: Kabul, Kandahar, Jowzjan, Balkh, Bamyan, Daikundi and Herat. 

One woman narrates being picked up by a group of Mujahideen men and taken to a location where she was asked to help a 16-year-old girl give birth to a child. After the child is born, she recalls asking the men who the father is, to which they laugh and respond, “All of us are the father.” 

The psychological and physical trauma of rape was made worse by the social stigma attached, turning victims into outcasts and making their future highly insecure. 

The report also describes cases of forced marriages borne out of the environment of lawlessness, poverty, sexual insecurity and physical abuse. Women and girls who lost their fathers, sons and husbands during the war were often forced to marry in order to safeguard themselves. During the Taliban regime, women without male relatives were especially vulnerable, being restricted from leaving their homes without male guardians. 

Many say the current environment is no less threatening for many women. Of particular concern is the high rate of child abduction. One woman describes being fearful for her son every time he leaves the house, and having little faith in the ability of the government to provide not just safety, but also justice. 

With talks of negotiations with former fighters and amnesty for past crimes, many of these women believe there will be no accountability for the atrocities suffered by them. 

The report ends with recommendations for the Afghan government and the international community to support transitional justice in Afghanistan, and for the civil society to continue to raise awareness, document and speak out against violence against women and girls.

Related links:

Publication announcement 

Download publication “Like a Bird with Broken Wings: Afghan Women Oral History” 

Launch event page