Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Afghanistan: Women’s rights law poorly enforced

Photo: Parwin Faiz/IRIN Rights groups stress that violence against women should be addressed while international support is still in the country (file photo)

Source: IRIN

Afghanistan still has a long way to go before women in the country are fully protected under the two-year-old Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law, a report concludes.

The joint study by the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, shows police, judicial and government officials throughout the country have begun to implement the EVAW law across the country, but inconsistently, and only in a small number of cases.

Georgette Gagnon, director of human rights at UNAMA, called the report a “message of cautious optimism”. The country is marking 16 days of activism against gender violence.

“Women are encouraged by the prosecutions, by the investigations and also by the awareness among women of their rights under this law, but there is a long way to go,” Gagnon told IRIN.

The law criminalizes 22 types of violence against women, including rape, forced marriage, self-immolation, child marriage, “baad” (the tradition of giving a girl or woman to settle a dispute) and more than a dozen others.

The study found that in some cases when the EVAW law should apply, prosecutors instead tried the cases under the penal code, Sharia law or used traditional methods for resolving disputes, resulting in lighter sentences, acquittals, or women being tried with “moral” crimes, such as adultery or the intention to commit adultery.

Former prosecutor Abdul Wahab from the eastern province of Kunar, bordering Pakistan, said that while the region had a lot of cases of violence against women, very few made it to the authorities. Many people lived in rural areas where there was no government and the Taliban remained in control.

“We do see change in areas where the government is in control,” Wahab said, “but still, only 20 percent of cases involving violence against women make it to the government; the other 80 percent are either solved by tribal elders or the Taliban.”

Wahab also said that because Kunar was a tribal society, as is most of Afghanistan, it was considered shameful to take one’s case to the government.

In addition, women often withdrew complaints after mediation. While the law provides for mediation in some cases of violence against women, Gagnon said, there was concern that serious crimes were mediated rather than prosecuted. The report details an incident in Daikundi province in central Afghanistan, when tribal elders mediated in a case involving a man stabbing his sister-in-law multiple times rather than taking it through official channels.

The study comes at a time of critical importance when American and allied forces are being reduced and Afghan security forces are rapidly taking the lead. It raises many women’s fears that they could lose the fragile gains made since the fall of the Taliban.

UNAMA and human rights organizations stress that now is the time to address human rights issues such as violence against women while international support, including people and resources, are still in the country.