Legal protection of women & girls falls through cracks under Afghan law

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UNAMA Director of Human Rights Georgette Gagnon
UNAMA Director of Human Rights Georgette Gagnon at round table discussions in Kabul, Afghanistan in July 2013. Photo: Fardin Waezi/UNAMA

(WNN/UN) United Nations, Kabul, AFGHANISTAN, SOUTHERN ASIA: As Afghan women increasingly act to report violence against themselves to security authorities in the region, prosecution and convictions remain low.  A new annual report just released by the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan shows that reports of violence against women inside Afghanistan has risen a shocking 28 percent within the last year.

So where is the law protecting women?

Enacted in Afghanistan in 2009, the EVAW – Elimination of Violence against Women law criminalizes acts of violence against women and harmful practices including child marriage, forced marriage, forced self-immolation, ‘baad’ (giving away a woman or girl to settle a dispute) and 18 other acts of violence against women including rape and beating. It also specifies punishment for perpetrators, but today the enforcement of the law is in question.

“I was 15 when I was forcibly married to someone in an exchange marriage when my brother married my husband’s sister [badal],” said 24-year-old NAK* from the Nangarhar province in November 2013.

“From the very first day my husband made it clear that he was married to me against his will and he regularly subjected me to violence including beating and abuse. In 2010 he married a second time and forced me to leave the house but my family forced me to return. In 2011 my husband and brother-in-law took me back to my father after severe beatings and told him they will not keep me. I took my complaint to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission which referred me to a women’s protection center. They appointed a lawyer for me. My case was mediated. My husband gave a written statement to the police that he would refrain from violence and I went back with him,” NAK continued.

But the system for protecting women under the EVAW – Elimination of Violence Against Women law in Afghanistan is not working under a policy of ‘mediation first’ when women face violence. Mediation whether through formal or informal dispute resolution often fails to protect women from further violence by not applying criminal sanctions and legal protections for women, the new UN report outlines.

“Within a month he started beating me again. He tried to kill me when neighbors intervened to save me. I had to leave again. My case has been mediated three times by local elders, shuras, jirgas and the Department of Women’s Affairs. My family does not want me to do anything legal as it is considered a shame under Pashtunwali [traditional, unwritten ethical code followed by Pashtun people] and my brother will have to divorce his wife too. I have suffered a lot and I want justice. I don’t care about anything else,” added NAK.

While registration of reported incidents such as forced marriage, domestic violence and rape increased by 28 per cent in 16 provinces since the previous year, the use of the EVAW law as a basis for indictment increased by only two per cent, according to ‘A Way to Go’ co-authored by the UNAMA – UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“Police, prosecutors and courts, in our view, need increased resources and technical and political support and direction from the highest levels of Government to deal adequately with the increase in reporting and registration of cases of violence against women documented in this report,” said Director of the Human Rights at UNAMA and representative for the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights Georgette Gagnon during the December 8, 2013 meeting in Kabul.

Women are “coming forward in demanding justice,” Gagnon outlined as she sat next to Afghan women leaders of prominent civil society groups inside Afghanistan, Hasina Safi from the Afghan Women’s Network and Mary Akrami of the Afghan Women’s Skills Development Centre.

The Government needs to step up and provide that justice, stressed Gagnon, Safi and Akrami.

An estimated total of 1,669 reported incidents registered throughout the country only 109 cases or seven per cent went through a judicial process using the EVAW law, Gagnon continued. “What we found is that, instead, the police and prosecutors were mediating more cases of violence against women,” she added, speaking on behalf of Ján Kubiš, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Afghanistan.

“The landmark law on the Elimination of Violence against Women was a huge achievement for all Afghans,” said the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. “But implementation has been slow and uneven, with police still reluctant to enforce the legal prohibition against violence and harmful practices, and prosecutors and courts slow to enforce the legal protections in the law. Afghan authorities need to do much more to build on the gains made so far in protecting women and girls from violence.”

Recommendations through the new UN assessment is now calling on Afghanistan’s government to improve the implementation of the EVAW law in the next 6 months. Raising the degree of comprehensive data monitoring to determine the adequacy of the law is also needed.

The release of the UN report on Afghan women and violence coincides with the global campaign for 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence. The 16 Days Campaign starts each year on November 25 on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ends on December 10 on UN global Human Rights Day.


*NAK is a pseudonym used to protect the identity of the woman who made a personal statement in the new UN report on violence against women Afghanistan.