DEFENDING WOMEN’S RIGHTS IN AFGHANISTAN

I am from Afghanistan. I am Uzbek by ethnicity and Uzbeks are the least privileged and the most marginalised ethnic group in Afghanistan. Educational opportunities are scare for an Afghan Uzbek woman in the male-dominated society. I managed to complete my masters degree in International Public Law with distinction. I am among the very few Uzbek women who obtained a masters degree.

In 2004, I started working as Monitoring Officer at the Afghan National Solidarity Program for Rural Development. In 2007, I worked as the officer in-charge of violence against women at Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) in Faryab province. I dealt with dozens of cases of violence against women, closely monitored the judicial process and advocated robustly for the victims.

In 2012, we formed a Civil Society Forum in Faryab province and a Women Leadership Network. The key objective was promoting the culture of tolerance and non-violence.
For promoting human rights, to fight for elimination of violence against women in Faryab province, I was humbled to be awarded a medal by then President Hamid Karzai in 2011 in recognition of my services.

From January 2013 until January 2019, I worked as Human Rights Officer with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in Faryab. I have been living and working in Afghanistan, a country where protracted conflict has wrought havoc to the country. Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic country and several ethnic groups live in each province. Four-decade s of conflict and animosities among ethnic groups have created an environment where non-violence is non-existent and they do not tolerate each other. Mistrust is wide. The norm is to resolve all difference through conflict.

In my province Faryab, we are working extensively with community elders, influential, local governmental figures and women to develop a culture of tolerance and non-violence. Violence against women was high to change mindsets, events needed to bring women on board and create an environment for dialogue and discussion so that the families and communities could find solutions to their problems and tensions without resorting to violence. The process encouraged everyone, including women, to be valued.

We demonstrated that conflict could be resolved by active listening, empathy and dialogue. Events were organised with community elders, religious scholars, the youth, peace activists, civil society activists, women and representatives of different ethnic groups to collaborate on co-existing peacefully and resolving issues through peaceful means, mutual understanding and tolerating different views, political affiliations and diversity.
Violence against women is one of the most serious human rights issues in Afghanistan. Although important achievements have been made in different areas of such as education for women and girls, health and participation of women in civil and political activities during the last decade, however significant violence against women remains a part of life in Afghanistan. In 2009 Karzai pledged to eliminate violence against women, passing a law that considered 22 acts to be violence against women including abuse, harassment, beating, exchange marriage in bad (blood), forced marriage, underage marriage, deprivation of property and inheritance. Although the Eliminating Violence Against Women (EVAW) Law was enforced in 2009, there has been no change in the violence figures. Cases investigated reveal that many women and girls continue to suffer from domestic violence in Faryab province. Cases of beatings by a husband or husband’s family members are common. The victims either seek separation or, in the extreme, escape by self-immolation or committed suicide. The issue of marriage is central to many of these problems. Forced marriages and engagements remain deeply culturally engrained and continue to be widespread.

In Faryab, significant steps have been taken toward improving protection mechanisms for vulnerable women. The commission of Elimination of Violence against Women (COEVAW) has been established at the provincial level. A safe house to shelter and protect women victims has been established. However, violence against women has not diminished, but has increased with each passing day. Sadly, the majority of cases of violence against women happen in remote villages and districts and remain unreported. Due to a lack of security, government organisations working for human rights cannot travel to the field due to ongoing conflict.

Sexual violence is one of the most serious problems faced by women. Based on traditional society, women and girls who are raped or have a sexual relationship with an unmarried man bring shame to the family or village. Some see that the only response to restoring honour is from the death of the victim. Government agencies still do not respect justice. In their territories, women are flogged in public for having an illicit affair with an unmarried men – but the male partner isnever been punished or prosecuted. As an example, a woman named Reza Gul who residence of Ghormach district, Faryab province, was attacked her husband cut off her nose – this happened in 2016. The victim was transported to Maimana hospital to receive treatment. Faryab human rights defenders jointly advocated to send her to Turkey where she could receive nose reconstructive surgery that was not possible in Afghanistan. The perpetrator was not punished.

The elimination of violence against women needs for more time. Afghanistan women must continue the fight for equality and justice. We women will need to make this sacrifice and search for international communities to support us in the fight against these violations and injustices. The victim women suffering from injustice want to access to justice and this most basic of rights cannot come soon enough.

text by Farukh Leqa Unchizada

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