United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women Rashida Manjoo returned last week from a nine-day official visit in Afghanistan with a call to the Afghan Government and the international community to continue its focus on creating sustainable solutions to reduce violence against women.
This was Manjoo’s third visit to Afghanistan, and the Special Rapporteur noted many positive developments since her travel to the country in 1999, during the Taliban regime, and in 2005.
In particular, Manjoo cited the creation of the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law (EVAW) by presidential decree in 2009 as “a key step towards the elimination of violence against women and girls.” EVAW criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women – including rape, child and forced marriage, domestic violence, trafficking, and forced self-immolation – and specifies punishment for perpetrators. Although enforcement of EVAW has remained a challenge, the law was recently used last month to convict and sentence a local mullah to 20-years imprisonment for the rape of a 10-year old girl in Kunduz.
Despite this success, Manjoo noted with concern that many women and girls continue to lack access to the formal justice system. Her investigation also found problems with corruption within the justice system as well as distrust concerning the ability of the courts to appropriately adjudicate matters related to women’s rights. These factors combine with societal pressure to push women and girls outside of the formal justice system to resolve disputes.
Afghan women and girls are reluctant to report crimes of violence. Manjoo reported several reasons, including “lack of knowledge of the law and its protective remedial provisions; fear of reprisal from the perpetrators and family members; financial and other constraints, including the lack of freedom of movement; and fear of being treated as criminals instead of victims, when reporting crimes committed against them.”
Afghanistan, however, has several opportunities to address barriers to eliminating violence against women. A comprehensive review of the Penal Code is expected to be carried out over the next year. According to Manjoo, this review will include gender-based violence crimes, including sexual harassment. In addition, Afghanistan is expected to draft a new, comprehensive family code.
Manjoo found that the legislative and institutional developments in Afghanistan were “a reflection of political will in addressing the promotion and protection of women’s rights which is further reflected in the appointments of women in high level positions.” That political will is likely to carry on, as newly elected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has taken a public stance of support for promoting women’s rights, and his wife First Lady Rula Ghani actively works on advancing women’s issues.
The role of the international community in supporting efforts to end violence against women in Afghanistan is also key. In the preliminary statement of her findings, Manjoo wrote that the increase in efforts over the past decade by the international community to promote the rights of women in Afghanistan was noticeable during her most recent visit, and she called on the international community to stand with Afghanistan to continue this work.
“It is crucial to recognize that violence against women and girls is a human rights violation that is rooted in multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and inequalities, and that it is strongly linked to the social, cultural and economic situation of women,” wrote Manjoo. “The importance of accountability as the norm for acts of violence against women cannot be over-emphasized, more especially within a context of generalized impunity for violence in public and private spheres. Accountability for all crimes committed against women and girls; the empowerment of women; and, the transformation of society, need to remain a focus for the government of Afghanistan, independent State institutions, civil society organisations and also the international community.”
She continued, “It is imperative that the best interests of all women and girls in Afghanistan should guide the response of relevant stakeholders to ensure coherent and sustainable solutions, in the quest to address the individual, institutional and structural causes and consequences of violence against women and girls.”
Manjoo’s findings will be discussed in a comprehensive report presented at the United Nations Human Rights Council in June.
Media Resources: United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights 11/12/14; Feminist Newswire 10/27/14, 10/21/014, 9/22/14