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[16days_discussion] Fw: Petition to Save Women's Shelters in Afghanistan from Hostile Control

Nalini Visvanathan alamel10 at
Thu Feb 17 19:37:37 EST 2011

  You may know about the high rate of incarceration for Afghan women who have stood up to their abusers and the need for safe shelters. Please consider lending your support to the Afghan Women's Network campaign to prevent the Afghan government taking over the shelters.  Thanks, Nalini

--- On Thu, 2/17/11, Alicia Lucksted <Aluckste at> wrote:

From: Alicia Lucksted <Aluckste at>
Subject: Petition to Save Women's Shelters in Afghanistan from Hostile Control
Date: Thursday, February 17, 2011, 7:10 PM

As you may know, in recent years a modest but vital network of women's shelters have been developed in Afghanistan, offering rare haven to women facing domestic abuse, sexual abuse, forced marriage, etc. 
These are now under threat by a proposed Afghan government regulation which would put all such shelters under the control of the government -- the same officials of which sanction the jailing of women who are raped and advocate that abused women return to the perpetrator's home. 
The petition below is one way we can lend our voices in opposition.

Pres. Karzai could sign this regulation into effect at any time, so urgent action is needed. 
Please spread the word by posting the petition link to your Facebook page, tweeting it, spreading this email to friends, posting on blogs, etc. 

Additional information: 
-- US Department of State statement of concern  
-- Press Release from the Afghan Women's Network:   See below
-- Human Rights Watch article/statement:
The Afghan government claims that taking over the shelters would lead to sustainable funding and better management, but the real agenda is clear. The government is increasingly dominated by hard-line conservatives who are hostile to the very idea of shelters, since they allow women some autonomy from abusive husbands and family members.   Rachel Reid, Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch  
Press Release:
Afghan Women Call for the Repeal of Shelter Regulation
17 February, 2011
“If our government is serious about ending the misuse of women’s rights, they have to stop the continuous sexual abuse of women in female prisons throughout Afghanistan. If we women had any confidence in the ability of the government to protect us I would have not come to this women’s shelter but would have gone to them in the first place. Instead, I was made to sit in a police station for half an hour and was accused of every possible crime by the police after I escaped home.”
- Halima[1], a 35 year old woman who escaped a husband who had sold her to three men after he lost a gambling game.

Let us recall the history of women’s shelters in Afghanistan. Independent safe-houses were started because our government failed to meet the basic human needs of women, and whose ineffective management of emergency shelter led to repeated attempted suicides by women in Azadi Garden. It was then that women’s organizations were invited by UN agencies to help remedy the situation. Women who had experience and had learned from the centuries-old Afghan tradition of giving safety to those in need opened safe homes with the intention of supporting their kind with a woman’s sensitivity and care. 
Since last eight years thousands of women have been given safe haven in these independent shelters. Many of them were in fact referred to these places by the government, including the Presidential Palace, which did not wish to disrupt its relationship with tribes and clans that might have been upset by the government giving refuge to their abused daughters.
These concerns persist even now. On many occasions government officials, pressured by influential people in society or political circles, have exposed the location of women seeking refuge or forced them to return to their families who then punish them for trying to escape. This is a betrayal of the women they should be trying to protect. And yet this week, in response to a baseless media report and an incomplete and untransparent political assessment, the decision has been taken to hand these shelters over to the government, which has proven itself incapable of managing them well or protecting the women who depend on them.
“We got a case on a Thursday afternoon of a woman who was terribly injured. We kept calling MOWA but got no response so had to call the senior deputy minister, her first response was ‘we’re off today, bring the case on Saturday’ and I kept saying that she will die if we wait until then, but the deputy didn’t even care. But with this Regulation, I would have to let the injured woman die till MOWA was back at work after two days” 
- Executive Director of a women’s shelter in Kabul.
The Afghan Women’s Network believes that the first concern of any regulation, policy or law should be the protection of the citizen, not control over foreign resources or saving ‘honor’.
AWN is equally concerned by the government’s accusation of the misuse of funds in these shelters. In fact, the majority of shelters are being very well run, despite the fact that due to government interference many have been running on no external funding for the last one year. 
We believe that it is corruption which should be combated, as this is our national shame: a problem which persists due to the government’s failure to tackle it at the highest level. We believe in accountability and transparency for both government and non-government organizations alike, and that organizations of all kinds should take on only as much responsibility as any they can effectively absorb, manage, and lead. NGOs have been able to do this, and are dismayed by the incapacity of the Afghan government, which has spent a mere 40% of its allocated development budget according to official reports.
Following the incredible media report, and the Commission of investigation into the shelters, the government has come up with a draft Regulation that aims to control the access, protection and services of shelters to women at risk. However, we see the Regulation as it is currently devised as hampering the very basic principle of a shelter, which is providing safety to women. 
Our concerns are as follows: 
- The fundamental obstacle created by the Regulation is that it restricts the admission of women into shelters by creating parallel decision-making structures of high officials which are not accessible for the women who is in need of immediate support. The Regulation requires every case to be reviewed by a high level Council in order for a woman to gain admission to a shelter. This bureaucratic measure – which experience proves would be subject to corruptive influence by powerful members of society – will only result in imminent threats to any woman escaping violence and can result in the loss of her life. Knowing this to be the case, fewer women will seek help.

- The Regulation has come into effect without any consultation with the organizations running shelters, nor has it been developed by women’s rights specialists who can understand the sensitivity of the matter in Afghanistan context. Considering the inability of women to access justice, victims of domestic abuse and rape can easily fall prey to state punishment practice show that courts in Afghanistan still does not differentiate between cases of rape and adultery.

- Our experiences of working with government agencies have shown that they are not in a position to utilize the allocated development budget due to lack of structures and management capabilities, therefore, they’re not in a situation to manage the very complex nature of running shelters in Afghanistan. This should be a long term goal with a proper transition process.
We, civil society, the women organization’s and women activists of Afghanistan, call on the government to seriously consider our concerns and start a process of consultation to revise the Regulation with best interest and safety of women at risk. 
For more information please contact:
Afghan Women’s Network: awn.kabul at , 0093700286598

[1] Considering the personal safety of the woman, Halima is a chosen name. 

Afghanistan: Government Takeover of Shelters Threatens Women’s Safety - Human Rights Watch
Conservative Forces Hostile to Women’s Rights Drive Proposed Regulation 

(New York, February 13, 2011) – An Afghan government move to take over the operations of women’s shelters threatens the safety of women and girls in Afghanistan, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch urged the government to support, rather than control, the work of shelter providers to ensure that women fleeing domestic violence are able to find safe and secure refuge. 

The government is considering a draft regulation on Women’s Protection Centers that would allow it to take over management of existing shelters for women, almost all of which are operated by nongovernmental organizations or the United Nations. Adoption of the regulation would result in the closure of some shelters, restrictions on women’s freedom of movement, compulsory forensic examinations, a likely reduction in protection of shelter residents from abusers, and the possible expulsion of women still in need of safety, Human Rights Watch said. 

“The Afghan government claims that taking over the shelters would lead to sustainable funding and better management, but the real agenda is clear,” said Rachel Reid, Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government is increasingly dominated by hard-line conservatives who are hostile to the very idea of shelters, since they allow women some autonomy from abusive husbands and family members.”

In January 2011, the Council of Ministers sent a letter to shelter providers ordering them to transfer control to the Women’s Affairs Ministry within 45 days. To put the plan in effect, the Council of Ministers must approve the draft regulation. The council meets every Monday.

The regulation gives power to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to appoint female ministry employees as the director and deputy director of each shelter. It also creates a committee made up of government appointees that controls entry and dismissal from shelters. Shelter providers interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they often face death threats from families demanding the return of women or girls in the shelters’ care. Human Rights Watch has also documented cases in which women in NGO-run shelters who fear lethal retribution from their families have come under pressure to return home from government officials, including some in the Women’s Affairs Ministry. 

“This government is full of misogynist warlords and wide open to corruption,” Reid said. “A government shelter is far more likely to cave in to pressure from families and tribes to hand back the victims, which will put women’s lives at risk.” 

The draft resolution contains a number of other deeply problematic provisions, Human Rights Watch said. One would require every woman admitted to a shelter to undergo a forensic examination. Women and girls fleeing abuse should not be assumed to require a forensic examination, or to have committed a crime, which the compulsory imposition of such an examination implies. 

Such examinations can be traumatic for women, particularly in a country with limited numbers of female forensic medics. In cases where women have been subjected to violence, the UN World Health Organization specifies that doctors should respect the wishes of women survivors of violence and explain the advantages and disadvantages of a medical examination, giving women and girls the option to undergo a complete or partial medical examination or even to refuse to undergo the examination.

Forcing women to undergo forensic examinations violates their rights to privacy, dignity, and bodily integrity, Human Rights Watch said. 

Another problematic provision states that residents can be evicted from the shelter if they are “accepted into the home of her family or another relative,” or upon “marriage,” but does not say that the woman’s consent should be a precondition for such a decision. A woman or girl facing domestic abuse, which usually involves one or more members of her own family, should not be forcibly returned to her family or relatives. 

The draft regulation also states that women would not be allowed to leave the shelter’s compound. While there are strong grounds for concern about the safety of women, decisions about freedom of movement should be based solely on these security considerations, rather than imposing a prison-like ban on freedom of movement in violation of Afghan and international law. 

“Today President Hamid Karzai calls the Taliban his brothers and seeks their support,” Reid said. “He should think of the sisters, daughters, and mothers who are at risk, and take steps to protect them, including rejecting this regressive measure.” 

The need for shelters for women and girls in Afghanistan is acute, Human Rights Watch said. Violence against women and girls, including domestic violence, sexual harassment, and rape, is endemic. Forced and child marriage remain widespread and socially accepted. Though the data on the extent of the problem vary, all surveys indicate that well over half of the marriages in Afghanistan are forced or involve girls under age 16. Since violence and abuse often take place inside the family, there is a vital need for safe and secure places for women, Human Rights Watch said. 

Fewer than half of the 34 provinces in the country currently have shelters. Many women and girls are prosecuted for “running away from home” when they flee abuse, even though there is no such crime under Afghan law. 

What underlies this punishment of victims is a failure by the police and other security officials to recognize forced and child marriage as a crime under Afghan law, Human Rights Watch said. This practice was recently codified by a Supreme Court directive in October 2010 (1497/1054), which said that women and girls were only permitted to seek refuge in the home of a relative or with the Security or Justice Departments, and that those who sought refuge elsewhere could be prosecuted. Research by Human Rights Watch and other organizations shows that many women are afraid to seek help from justice or security departments because they fear they will face further abuse or be forcibly returned home.

Women’s shelters have long been controversial among hard-line religious factions, who have portrayed them as encouraging immorality or providing protection for “bad girls.” This view was reflected in a series of programs broadcast by Noorin TV in mid-2010, which made unsubstantiated claims linking shelters with prostitution and other abuses of women residents. A conservative mullah who led a government inquiry into shelters, Nematullah Shahrani, told reporters that public complaints about shelters following the TV program influenced his investigation. Shahrani’s commission fed into the proposed regulation. 

Selay Ghaffar, executive director of Humanitarian Assistance for Women and Children of Afghanistan (HAWCA), which runs a shelter, told Human Rights Watch, “The real reason for this regulation is that all those conservatives in the supreme court, the cabinet, the parliament, the ministries, all want to close down shelters. They want to control women, to push women back into their houses, like under the Taliban regime.”

The government has justified its move to take over shelters partly on the grounds that it can offer sustainable long-term funding. But while many nongovernmental organizations would welcome long-term funding from the government, shelter providers have told Human Rights Watch that they doubt the capacity of the Women’s Affairs Ministry to manage the shelters. 

The proposed regulation contains some positive measures, such as setting out minimum standards of food and heating, requiring shelters to provide education and literacy services, and requiring that any police interviews with women or girls in shelters must be carried out by female officers. 

“Since the fall of the Taliban, courageous Afghan women have created places of safety for women and girls who are most in need,” Reid said. “It would be tragic if growing conservatism in the government unraveled their achievements.”

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