Afghanistan: United Nations Encourages Implementation of Anti-Violence Law

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and UN Women have issued a notice to Afghan authorities calling for greater implementation of the law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) in Afghanistan.

EVAW, enacted in August 2009, outlaws and prescribes punishment for such harmful acts as child marriage, forced marriage, the exchange of women under the pretext of marriage, the giving away of women and girls to settle disputes, and forced self-immolation. Although President Hamid Karzai enacted the law by presidential decree, EVAW has not gained parliamentary approval and law enforcement authorities have faced difficulties enforcing the law.
 
Representatives from UNAMA and UN Women believe further implementation of EVAW will help with the Afghan government’s current obligations under the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Additionally, they believe the law will be influential not just for women and girls, but all of Afghan society. “It is imperative for the development of Afghanistan that women are able to exercise their rights and be free from violence in their homes and workplaces,” said UN Women representative Ingibjorg Gisladottir.
 
EVAW faced further controversy last Saturday when efforts to add more substantial protections to the law in the Afghan Parliament were denied and sent back to the drafting committee. Proposed changes included allowing prosecution of abuse even when victims withdraw claims, creating battered women’s shelters, and adding a provision prohibiting sexual harassment.
 
Women’s advocates in Afghanistan have mixed feelings about changes to EVAW. Some believe the current law is far from ideal and worry that without parliamentary support, a new president may repeal EVAW. Fawzia Koofi is one parliament member who believes the time for change is now. “If we wait for the best moment when there is no opposition, we will wait forever,” she said.
 
Others believe the timing is wrong to do anything other than safeguard the current bill. Mahbooba Saraj, a women’s advocate in Afghanistan, believes continuing debate on the law is “a gamble with the lives of Afghan women.” Heather Barr, director of the Afghanistan office of Human Rights Watch, states that "[t]he potential risk of opening this Pandora’s box is enormous.”
 
Human Rights Watch released a statement on Tuesday that the number of women and girls jailed for "moral crimes" is at an all-time high. In January 2012, 400 women were reported imprisoned for the "moral crimes" of running away from home or having sex outside of marriage. Today, 600 women and girls are imprisoned for "moral crimes", showing a 50% increase over the last 18 months. Yet, most women jailed for moral crimes are themselves victims of abuse or forced marriages and have not otherwise violated Afghan law.
 
For more information on Afghan women and moral crimes, please see this Human Rights Watch report.
 
 
Compiled from: “UN Calls on Afghan Authorities to Ensure Full Implementation of EVAW Law,”  United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (20 May 2013); Rubin, Alissa J., "Effort to Strengthen an Afghan Law on Women May Backfire," NY Times (18 May 2013); Barr, Heather, "'Dark Future' for women's rights in Afghanistan," Human Rights Watch (22 May 2013); "I Had to Run Away," Human Rights Watch (Mar. 2012).