30 مارس 2011
The Afghan government must ensure independence of women’s shelters

Our shelter is important because the police stations don't have designated places for women. In the current holding places, women get abused and raped by police.

Noor Marjan, age 34, Acting Director of the Afghan Women's Skills Development Centre, which runs various projects for women including women's shelters.

The Afghan Ministry of Justice has drafted a regulation on Women’s Protection Centres. Although the regulation envisions greater support and monitoring of shelters, Amnesty International opposes regulation that would give the government control over shelters through the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, (MOWA). Amnesty International believes that it would be more prudent for NGOs to continue to independently operate shelters, with constructive support from the government.

There are 14 shelters independently run by NGOs across Afghanistan, providing sanctuary to hundreds of women and girls fleeing sexual and physical violence, and forced or underage marriage.  The shelters also provide education as well as legal assistance to women and girls seeking justice.

Following national and international criticism, President Karzai said that only “one or two” of the shelters would be subject to government control. The final number the proposed regulation would cover has yet to be determined.  

If the regulation is passed, women and girls would have to plead their case before an eight-member panel that would determine their eligibility for admission and discharge. The proposed panel would be dominated by government representatives, including from the MoWA, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Attorney General’s Office and the Ministry of Public Health.  Women’s and human rights groups are alarmed by this development as, in many cases, shelters provide a safe house for women and girls fleeing abuse from local power-holders and commanders who are directly or indirectly connected with the government. 

The draft regulation would prohibit women and girls inside the shelter from leaving unless permitted by MoWA, thus curtailing their freedom of movement. The regulation would also impose compulsory forensic medical examinations to test women and girls for evidence of sexual activity – all this not with the intent of providing medical assistance to those subjected to sexual abuse or to gather evidence against their abusers, but to determine “immoral” behaviour. These tests could open the door to further abuse as Afghan women can be jailed for “adultery”, an offence under Afghan law.

The Afghan Women’s Network recently highlighted the dangers of government interference in the protection of women, citing the case of a 12-year-old girl from Shindand in Herat who recently sought refuge in a shelter. Under pressure from a member of parliament, the girl was returned to her family who killed her.

Far from guaranteeing the protection and wellbeing of vulnerable women and girls, the draft regulation would put many of them at further risk. Take Action and call on the Afghan government to withdraw the proposed regulation and ensure the independence of women’s shelters across Afghanistan.

Image: Women's shelter, Afghanistan. © Women for Afghan Women

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