Afghanistan: Women Shelters Endangered as Government Threatens to Take Control

In Afghanistan, women’s shelters are often the primary defense for protecting abused women and furthering their rights. All of the shelters in Afghanistan are run by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). One of these NGOs, Women for Afghan Women (WAW) provides centers and shelters with services such as legal justice to women suffering from human rights violations. These are essential services that not only further women’s rights, but save many lives as well.

However, proposed legislation by the government threatens the ability of these shelters to continue their defense of women’s rights. The proposed bill, if signed by President Karzai, would allow the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA) to take control of these shelters. However, NGOs assert that MoWA lacks the capacity to maintain these shelters as well as the independent power to protect women’s rights in Afghanistan’s increasingly conservative government. If the government took control of the shelters, they would implement new procedures, including 'virginity tests' for unmarried girls seeking refuge in the shelter.

This change in power could jeopardize the financial support of the shelters as well. Currently, international foundations and governements financially support the shelters, and they could stop funding the shelters if they government took over. 

WAW views the MoWA takeover as a way for the government to further peace talks with the Taliban and other ultra-conservative members of the government. In the past, the Taliban has demonstrated their opposition to women’s rights through acts of violence, threats, and limits on education for women.

Furthermore, the proposed bill also came forward in response to television claims that women’s shelters support prostitution and other immoral behavior that violates the principles of Islam. This sparked public pressure which led President Karzai to create a government commission to investigate the shelter services. All of the NGOs have denied these claims. These accusations have placed many shelter workers in danger and placed women’s rights supporters in an environment of fear. However, shelter leaders refuse to back down and demand government prosecution of the television host for endangering shelter workers.

NGOs will continue their fight because, as a worker from WAW put it, “there is an urgent need for shelters,” she said. “If there is no shelter, then what will happen to those women who are suffering from violence?”

Compiled from: Television’s Threat to Afghan Women, 28 December 2010; Afghanistan Legislation May Let Government Take Over Women’s Shelters – NGO Alarm, WURN2 February 2011; Afghan Officials Say Women's Shelters are Corrupt, NYTimes, 15 February 2011.