This week at Amnesty International we have been celebrating the rejection by Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, of a proposed law which would have prevented the effective investigation and prosecution of gender based violence. As I was jubilantly sharing news reports and speaking to my colleagues about this ‘win’ I started thinking, what sort of world are we living in where this law is even conceivable?
The draft Criminal Procedure Code was passed by the Afghan parliament in January 2014. This code prohibited relatives of the accused from testifying in criminal cases, including violence against women cases. In a country where most violence against women and girls occurs within the home, how can justice be achieved when the witnesses are silenced?
A Global Rights survey estimated that 87% of women in Afghanistan experience at least one form of physical, sexual or psychological violence or forced marriage, and an estimated 62% experienced multiple forms of violence.
Women’s and human rights groups in Afghanistan have been advocating since last year for the law not to be signed. Their calls were echoed around the world, including by the thousands of Amnesty International supporters in Australia who emailed President Karzai and the Minister of Justice Ghalib. Thankfully, on Monday, our calls were recognised.
Unfortunately though, this is only the latest issue in a dangerous trend occurring in Afghanistan over the last 12 to 18 months where some decision-makers in the country are actively trying to water down women’s rights. In Nov 2013, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Justice and the Ministerial Committee of Shari’a and Traditional Penalty proposed to reinstate punishments dating back to the Taliban era, including public stoning to death for “adultery” for married people and flogging of up to 100 lashes for unmarried people found guilty of “adultery”.
Since the 2001 fall of the Taliban, Afghan women have been hoping for a better future. We saw a huge increase in enrolment into all tiers of education, increased life expectancy and increased representation in all forms of government. However, the recent attempts to introduce retrograde laws in Afghanistan undermine this progress and indicate a serious sliding back on the protection and advancement of women’s rights in the country.
In a few weeks, Afghans will elect a new President, and we hope that it will mark a new era for the brave women and girls in Afghanistan. Australians have a role to play in this. As individuals you can support Amnesty International’s Afghan Women campaign and you can call on our government to take every opportunity to use its membership position on the UN Security Council and as an aid donor to protect and strengthen the rights of Afghan women.
“There is a feeling the achievements we’ve made in the last 10 years won’t matter and that we will be left alone, that we will have no support… My message would be to please keep supporting us.” said Farkhunda Saamy, women’s rights advocate in Afghanistan.
To find out more, visit the Amnesty International website.