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(WNN) Kabul, AFGHANISTAN, CENTRAL ASIA: Going in what numerous human rights organizations say is a ‘giant step backwards’, the Lower Afghan Parliament, known as the Wolesi Jirga, has been debating the reversal of a protective law called the EVAW – Elimination Against Violence Women Law. This Law was officially endorsed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2009 to protect girls from child marriage, as well as protect women from unjust sentencing under accusations of adultery inside the region.
But when Afghanistan’s President signed the endorsement for the Law a large problem that has blocked much of the Law’s effectiveness was never solved, the legal process of debate for all legal changes in the country required by both the Lower and Upper Parliament to fully instate the Law was never made. Karzai signed the endorsement during a break in the Parliament and the Parliamentary sessions that followed never picked up the legislation for discussion.
Lobbying efforts prior to the Lower Parliament deliberations debate on Saturday May 18, 2013 had been heralded by Afghan women’s advocates, along with other key organizations like AWN – Afghan Women’s Network and the AIHRC – Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, that included a request that the bill not be debated at this time. What the advocates feared most was that a public dissection of the bill in Parliament may cause any protected language to be taken completely out of the Law. But their pleas seemed to fall on ‘deaf ears’ as the deliberations went through anyway and five conservative members of the Parliament as predicted pushed in the opposite direction of the original bill asking for much less legal protection for women and girls.
“What women’s and human rights activists feared, did indeed happen today [Saturday May 18, 2013]…,” outlined AAN – Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent non-profit policy research organization funded by the Government of Sweden that includes a core team of analysts and a network of contributors with expertise in the fields of Afghan politics, governance, rule of law, security, and regional affairs.
Saying that the law does not represent fundamental tenants of Sharia Law and is only coming from ‘the West’, some of the most conservative members of the Parliament echoed strong conservative religious policies that are still upheld today by many of Afghanistan’s rural tribal community leaders.
Getting the bill pushed through both Lower and Upper Parliament may be much more difficult say the women’s advocates, as a majority of those in the Parliament hold conservative religious views.
“…Five MPs stood up and said early marriage and forced marriage should not be considered crimes, shelters had to be abolished, women who wanted to work needed their husbands’ approval and the conditions for multiple marriages had to be got rid of,” outlined the researchers for AAN who heard directly from observers that were present during the Parliamentary session. “Only six MPs and the speaker had the chance to express themselves before the debate was stopped,” AAN added.
The EVAW law criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women and girls in Afghanistan. This includes legal protections for women and girls from forced prostitution and sex-trafficking, early marriage, restrictions on polygamy and the trading of young girls in the tribal Pashtun custom of Baad, which has been used by Afghan tribals for centuries to settle disputes. It also grants women and girls greater access to equal education, property and land inheritance.
Because the government of Afghanistan has officially endorsed the Law, EVAW Law offices have been opened in local regions throughout Afghanistan. The result is that some court decisions have used the Law even without Parliamentary support, but the court actions are still limited by the limitations of the Law as it exists today.
“Traditional mechanisms coexist with State institutions and handle various types of cases throughout Afghanistan. Composed of influential male elders, they generally seek to preserve families and prevent escalation of tribal and other conflicts rather than protect
individual rights and enforce law.,” says a November 2011 report by United Nations OHCHR – Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Head of the Parliament’s Women’s Affairs Commission, Ms. Fawzia Koofi, who has publicly said she wants to run as a candidate for the next Afghanistan presidential election and who has been recently honored by Newsweek’s online publication The Daily Beast as one of the “150 Women Who Shake the World,” has been pushing for the EVAW Law to go through its formal legal process in debate inside the Parliament in spite of the fear by many women advocates that this would kill the Law. Koofi’s hope is that the Parliamentary process would actually strengthen the Law, not cause it to be stripped of its effectiveness.
To promote the EVAW – Ending Violence against Women Law and the opening of EVAW prosecution offices throughout Afghanistan, the IDLO – International Development Law Organization produced a number of Public Service Announcements (PSAs) on the following subjects: Violence against women is a crime, Rape, Inheritance and Forced (Baad) marriage. These messages were first produced as a text-based flyers in local regions, then as an audio PSA for regional radio, then the message evolved into this PSA for Afghan television. The IDLO seeks to create a culture of justice by building confidence in justice systems, enhancing access to justice and facilitating innovative legal approaches worldwide for sustainable and economic development. All of the IDLO PSAs have now been extensively broadcast throughout Afghanistan in Dari and Pashto. This 1:01 min video was produced and released by the IDLO – International Development Law Organization on Youtube on May 2013.
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