Afghan Women Denied Justice in Kandahar

Lack of support for those who try to make formal complaints of gender-based violence.

Women in Kandahar face huge obstacles to accessing justice, according to participants in an IWPR debate held in the southern Afghan province.

Nearly 100 women took part in a vigorous discussion about gender inequality in which they had the chance to ask tough questions of local officials and activists.

One issue highlighted by participants was a serious lack of support for those who wanted to report domestic abuse or other mistreatment.

Laluma Nuri, the deputy head of the department of women’s affairs in Kandahar, said, “Many women lack the courage to report abuse, and those who do complain to government institutions faced grave consequences – even death.”

Nuri said her department had managed to resolve 180 complaints made by women in Kandahar city over the past year, but it her department had no capacity whatsoever outside the provincial centre.

“We need a new staff structure so that we can provide services to women out in the districts, but the ministry has in fact reduced the number of our employees in the city,” she said.

Nonetheless, she said, she was liaising with a number of NGOs to help women living in more remote parts of the province.

Women were often completely unaware of their basic rights, she said.

“Sometimes women come to see us and we ask them why they didn’t take any action sooner. They say they weren’t aware that they could, or that they’d never heard about this place [the women’s affairs department].”

Nuri also emphasised the need for a women’s refuge in Kandahar.

Some participants said that corruption in judicial institutions made it hard for women to get their cases heard, but Qazi Sayed Jamshid, a judge at Kandahar’s juvenile court, said this was untrue.

Jamshid said the courts had prosecuted 39 cases involving abuse of women over the last year.

He too said that many women were unaware of how to proceed in legal matters.

“Women don’t know which office to complain to,” he said. “We want to work with them, and we investigate all cases referred to us by the department of women’s affairs and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.”

He agreed that it would be helpful to employ more women to deal with such issues, but said that security concerns made this problematic.

“Women can do a better job than men in investigating women’s complaints,” Jamshid said, before noting that the two women working for his court had been sent on secondment to Kabul for their own safety.

According to the Kandahar department of women’s affairs, the only female staff employed by any local state institutions – with the exception of the education department – worked as cleaners.

Some participants in the debate said the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) was not doing enough to help women.

But Shogofa Sahar, head of the women’s rights section of the AIHRC, said her organisation was the only place where the victims of abuse were guaranteed a fair hearing. Her office followed up most of the cases brought to it, but some women subsequently retracted their complaints after being threatened by male relatives, Sahar said.

Legal expert Mohammad Nayeb Alimi said the lack of state-employed lawyers, especially female ones, was a serious problem. He said there was just one female lawyer working in Kandahar, and she was too overburdened to be able to make much of an impact.

According to Alimi, lawyers were too expensive for the average woman to hire. He called on the government to introduce special incentives for female lawyers and to encourage women to come forward with concerns by ensuring there were more female staff in government jobs in general.

“The government should provide free legal aid,” he said. “Public awareness at the moment is far too low. Some women don’t know what a lawyer does is, and what authority or agency they need to complain to.”

He also said women tended to come off worse when corrupt officials were reviewing legal disputes.

“There are some people in the judicial institutions who get paid to deal with women’s rights but actually take money from the other party to a claim,” he said. “In such a situation, how can we expect a woman to file a complaints? Her family or in-laws, and the officials who are supposed to help her, are all her enemies. This further discourages women.”

This report was produced under IWPR’s Promoting Human Rights and Good Governance in Afghanistan initiativefunded by the European Union Delegation to Afghanistan.