Kabul men burqa protest women violence
A group of Afghan men wearing burqas gather outside the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission to protest violence against women on 5 March 2015 in Kabul, Afghanistan Getty Images

Dozens of Afghan men have taken to the streets of Kabul wearing burqas in a protest against violations of women's rights in the country.

The burqa is a garment that covers the entire body with a semi-transparent cloth covering the eyes, and is worn by some Muslim women while they are in public. In Afghanistan, it is compulsory for women and girls.

The demonstrators rallied from the Pul-e-Surkh area of Kabul to the near Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), Afghanistan's news agency Tolo News reported.

"I walked the streets today in a burqa to understand how my sisters and mothers face violence from men on a daily basis," a protester said. "I wanted to understand the situation."

The men, who said they are part of a group called Afghan Peace Volunteers, referred several cases and complaints to the IHRC following episodes of violence against women.

The activists were both praised and ridiculed by spectators, with some accusing them of tarnishing Afghanistan's reputation.

Others, however, commended the gesture.

The demonstration occurred shortly after a woman was almost killed by some men after walking through the streets of Kabul wearing metal armour in a bid to denounce sexual harassment.

Women's rights in Afghanistan

When the Taliban came to power in the late 1990s and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar - leader of political party Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin - was elected as Afghanistan's prime minister, women's rights were drastically reduced and new laws were implemented.

According to the laws, many of which are still in place today, women were not allowed to access education after the age of eight, and they could not work or leave their houses unless they were accompanied by a male guardian.

They were not allowed to appear on the balconies of their houses, they had to wear the burqa when in public and could not speak loudly because no men external to their family should hear their voices.

Visits from a male doctor were also prohibited unless the woman was accompanied by a male guardian and they were banned from TV channels, radio stations and all public places.

Women found violating these laws were at risk of being executed by the insurgents.

According to a February 2015 report by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (Rawa), the AIHRC registered over 4,000 cases of violations against women, including rape, extrajudicial executions and torture, in nine months.

Afghan Women
Women and girls are often convicted of moral crimes in Afghanistan Reuters

Hundreds of women accused of "zina" every year

Rights groups have also accused the Afghan government of persecuting women for so-called "moral crimes".

According to a June 2014 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), in 2013 at least 95% of the women imprisoned and 50% of girls were accused of zina, intercourse between two people outside of marriage.

Zina, according to the Islamic law, is punishable with public caning and/or stoning to death.

HRW said that in most cases, women and girls are accused of "attempted zina" after they run away from their homes, often to escape domestic violence or an illegal forced marriage.

Women who flee are suspected of having sex outside marriage as they are not under the supervision of their male relatives. Thus, they can be persecuted for zina.

Afghan women, and in some cases men, are also subjected to honour killings, a murder which takes place when a person is believed to have acted in a way that brings shame on their family. The killing is carried out to restore the honour.

According to some, the situation of women in Afghanistan slowly improved following the appointment of President Hamid Karzai in 2004, after the Taliban government was removed.

Last February Karzai refused to sign the draft Criminal Procedure Code, which would have denied justice to victims of rape, domestic violence and under-aged and forced marriage.

Karzai was substituted by current President Ashraf Ghani in September 2014.