By AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
Women are at the front line in protecting women’s human rights in Afghanistan. They are teachers, doctors, journalists, activists and politicians.
Many have been killed or threatened because of their work to protect women’s rights, while some have fled the country.
They face intimidation and attacks; some are threatened by their families for daring to speak out. The Taliban see their work as defying culture, religion and accepted role of women in society.
As Australian troops prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of 2013 the question must be asked, what will happen to the women?
Amnesty International spoke to four brave and committed women – some who have paid a high price for their bravery – about the risks they face in championing the rights of women and girls. Here is the second of their stories. (See the first here.) For security reasons, names* have been changed.
Shala* works as a woman’s rights activist and teacher in Helmand province, where Taliban control and influence is widespread. Here she tells Amnesty International about the risks and challenges she faces in her work.
There are lots of risks for women working in Helmand. We go to work fully covered under the burqa [veil]. The society here is very restrictive towards woman and conservative elements do not like it when women leave the home and work in an office with men who are not family members.
I receive lots of threatening phone calls, warning me not to leave the house and there are people following me. They warn me not go to work or help anyone. They said “you provoke our youth”. I have received so many threats by phone but, despite this, I continue with my work.
I deal with cases of domestic violence, women committing suicide and self-immolations. For example, I recently had a case of an 18-year-old woman who came to me and said her husband had beaten her and kept her hanging by a rope inside a well for three days. Her body was covered in marks showing that she had been severely beaten and abused. We don’t have shelters for women here in Helmand, so I took her to the local Children’s Centre. I don’t know what happened to her.
I also went with the police to her house. The surrounding area was cordoned off and her husband was arrested. Very rarely do the police get involved and arrest people who abuse women. We have lots of problems dealing with these kinds of cases.
Most of these domestic cases are resolved outside the usual legal procedures. In some cases, family disputes are resolved by village elders and women are then mostly victimised. Most cases relating to family disputes are not reported to the government. If a woman goes to the government office to make a complaint against her husband she is branded a woman of bad character and is no longer respected.
There are about 20 to 30 women in Helmand prison, most of them young and all have suffered domestic violence. They were abused by their husbands and wanted a divorce. They don’t have a defence lawyer and the police are not addressing their problems.
There is too much discrimination against women. Many of the women have given birth in the prison, some had one child, others had two. There is no school in the prison for the children, the prison just gives them food, and clothes occasionally.
Once the transition of security responsibility from international to Afghan forces started, the security situation deteriorated in Helmand and many people lost their jobs because foreign development programmes ceased operating.
Now many people are jobless and facing economic hardship. A large number of people were working for [international] Provincial Reconstruction Team development programs like constructing a road, mosque or school. This was a source of income for people. The lack of job opportunities is linked to insecurity, murder, theft and other crimes. So, since then, the problems have increased for the people of Helmand.
*Names have been changed
Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people campaigning to protect human rights. This year Amnesty International is campaigning both in Australia and globally to ensure women and girls in Afghanistan are protected, enjoy their full set of human rights, and are empowered and supported in leading changes in their lives. For information visit http://www.amnesty.org.au/afghanwomen/ or follow us at www.facebook.com/amnestyoz or on twitter @amnestyOz