Afghanistan: Action to counter Karzai’s dubious denial of Govt intent to control women’s shelters Print E-mail

Monday February 28 2011

Urgent Alert: Afghanistan

Equality Now calls on the government of Afghanistan to immediately withdraw a proposed Bill to take over women’s shelters.

Scroll down to read Karzai's unconvincing denial of his Government's hostility to the very idea of shelters since they allow women some autonomy from abusive husbands and family members, and a report of the proposal announced by women's affairs minister Husun Bano Ghazanfar on February 15 20011

UPDATE (February 28, 20011): While the government of Afghanistan has reportedly agreed to discard its plans to take over women’s shelters, our partners in Afghanistan have informed Equality Now that details are not finalized and a number of outstanding questions remain. Please continue to call on the Afghan government to withdraw the proposed Bill and on donor countries to listen to the concerns Afghan women’s rights activists.

Equality Now is deeply concerned about a proposed Bill by the government of Afghanistan that would relegate women’s shelters, currently being operated by several independent women’s organizations, to the management of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA). The draft regulations for the shelters propose unwarranted government control over the acceptance, regime and release of women seeking the protection at these shelters, including compulsory forensic and medical examinations of women and girls seeking admittance and cumbersome restrictions on admitted women leaving the shelter. TAKE ACTION!

Given the Afghan government’s abysmal track record on women’s rights, a government take-over of shelters would have serious implications for Afghan women. According to a 2009 report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), violence against women is widespread and “much of this violence is perpetrated within the family; however, local power-brokers, the formal and traditional justice systems, police and prison authorities also play their part in reinforcing social control over women and in condoning such violence.” Additionally, a 2009 joint report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the OHCHR, states that “Afghan women have repeatedly reported that they have lost faith in the law enforcement and judicial institutions that they consider ineffective, incompetent, dysfunctional and corrupt. Referring an incident to the police, the national directorate of security (i.e., the intelligence service) or a prosecutor is said to be of no avail; cases are usually not taken seriously, properly recorded or acted upon. Ultimately, authorities are not willing or are not in a position to provide women at risk with any form of protection to ensure their safety”. Until the government of Afghanistan takes steps to address these issues, women will not trust government-run shelters to provide them with the safety and support they need.

Currently shelters are run by NGOs that are committed to fighting for justice for the women in the shelters and are providing much needed services to such women. The proposed regulations contain no provisions to provide such legal, social, medical, psychological or rehabilitative services and there is a fear that they would operate more like prisons than places of support. In supporting the government take-over, MoWA accuses women’s groups of corruption. However, human rights advocates are concerned that the main motivation behind the government’s move is to appease conservative forces within the country who want control over women maintained. Speaking to the press on 17 February in Kabul, Soraya Sobhrang, commissioner for women’s rights at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, asserted that former militia commanders within the president’s inner circle were behind the government’s crackdown on women’s shelters. “We believe people operating above the law will influence decisions about women in shelters,” she said. The director of Women for Afghan Women, Manizha Naderi, who runs shelters for abused women in Afghanistan and on average assists 1200 women a year, believes that: “MoWA does not have the capacity to run women’s shelters. Furthermore, as an arm of the government itself dependent on that body for its survival, MoWA lacks the independence and the will to stand up for women’s rights against an increasingly conservative regime.”

Following widespread criticism, President Karzai has reportedly stated that the government will not take over all shelters but rather only the few accused of corruption and found in violation of the established standards and the rules and regulations. However, this is not reflected in the language of the proposed Bill and concrete steps to withdraw the Bill have not been taken.

The international donor community plays a key developmental role in Afghanistan, including in helping to rebuild institutions of state. While the donor community has expressed commitment to the rights of Afghan women, such commitment is not always matched by action. Women’s groups in Afghanistan have advocated that support from the international community should depend on the rights of women being upheld. The Brussels Proclamation issued by Afghan women leaders at the Afghan Women’s Summit for Democracy as early as December 2001 recommended that “all support, including monetary, from the international community [should be] conditional on the rights and treatment of women.” In December 2010, at a European Parliament meeting on strengthening the role of women MPs in stabilizing and transforming Afghanistan held in Brussels, Afghan women MPs called for the international donor community to support Afghan women and prioritize women’s rights in their funding. Donor countries need to listen to this repeated plea and hold each other and the government of Afghanistan accountable for their international commitments, including by adopting “measures that ensure the protection of and respect for [the] human rights of women and girls” as provided for by UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which highlights the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peace-building.

Recommended Action

Please contact the Afghan officials below calling on them to withdraw the proposed Bill and ensure that Afghan women who need shelter have a safe place to go where they will get the support they need. Ask also that the government of Afghanistan takes strong steps to live up to its Constitutional and international commitments, including under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), to ensure equality for women and access to justice. Please also write to the main donors to Afghanistan asking them to heed the voices of Afghan women in supporting women’s rights in the country. TAKE ACTION!

Letters should be addressed to:

Afghan government

President Hamid Karzai
Gul Khana Palace
Presidential Palace
Kabul, Afghanistan
Email:
(if you get an error message, can also send care of Feroz Mohmand, Executive Assistant to the President Spokesperson .)

Dr Husn Banu Ghazanfar
Minister of Women Affairs
Ministry of Women’s Affairs
Email:

Professor Habibullah Ghalib
Minister of Justice
Ministry of Justice
Kabul, Afghanistan
Email:
Tel: + 93 20 2100 322

International donors
Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry
Embassy of the United States
Kabul, Afghanistan
Tel: (00 93) (0)700-10-8001
Fax: (00 93) (0)700-108-564 or (0)202-300-546
Email:

Ambassador William Patey
Embassy of the United Kingdom
15th Street Roundabout
Wazir Akbar Khan
PO Box: 334
Kabul, Afghanistan
Tel: (93) (0) 700 102 000
Fax: (93) (0) 700 102 250
Email:

Ambassador William Crosbie
Embassy of Canada
Street No. 15, House No. 256
Wazir Akbar Khan
Kabul, Afghanistan
Tel: 93 (0) 799 742 800
Fax: 93 (0) 799 742 805
Email:

Ambassador Reiichiro Takahashi
Embassy of Japan
Street No 15, Wazir Akbar Khan
Kabul, Afghanistan
Tel: +873-762853777
Fax: +873-761218272

Ambassador Ettore Francesco Sequi
Embassy of Italy
Great Massoud Road
Kabul, Afghanistan
Tel: (+93) 20 21 03 144
Secretary's Office: (+93) 70 288 942
Fax: (+39) 06 46 91 35 60
Email: ,

Ambassador Rüdiger König
Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany
Wazir Akbar Khan, Mena 6
Kabul, Afghanistan
Tel: + 93 (0) 20 - 210 15 12
Fax: + 49 (0) 30 5000 - 7518
Email via website: http://www.kabul.diplo.de/Vertretung/kabul/en/Kontakt.html

Ambassador Radinck van Vollenhoven
Netherlands Embassy in Afghanistan
Street of Ministry of Interior
Malalai Watt
Shahr-e Naw
Kabul, Afghanistan
Tel: 00-93-(0)700-286841
Email:

Ambassador Tore Hattrem
Royal Norwegian Embassy in Kabul
Street 15, Lane 4
Wazir Akbar Khan
Kabul, Afghanistan
Tel: +47 22 24 03 13/14
Email: (if you get an error message, you can send care of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: or send via webform: http://www.regjeringen.no/en/dep/ud/about_mfa/contact/contact.html)

Ambassador Torbjörn Pettersson
Embassy of Sweden
House 70, Lane 1, Street 15
Wazir Akbar Khan
Kabul, Afghanistan
Tel: +93 (0)20 210 4912
Email:

Ambassador A. Carsten Damsgaard
Embassy of Denmark to Afghanistan
Wazir Akbar Khan
Kabul, Afghanistan
Tel: +93 (0) 202 304 544
Fax: + 93 (0) 202 302 838
Email:
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Sample letter
Dear Ambassador [  insert name ]

I write to you with deep concern regarding a proposed Bill that would see the government of Afghanistan take over the running of women’s shelters, previously managed by independent women’s organisations.  

The new draft regulations propose unwarranted government control over the acceptance, regime and release of women seeking the protection of these shelters, including compulsory forensic and medical examinations of women and girls seeking admittance and cumbersome restrictions on admitted women leaving the shelter.  It is feared that shelters will be run as virtual prisons.  Such controls could dissuade already terrified and vulnerable women from seeking help and so risk their further harm or even death.  The proposals have been widely condemned by women’s rights advocates.  

I understand that President Karzai has reportedly stated that the government is reconsidering the proposal, however the details are unclear and Afghan women’s rights activists remain concerned about the Bill which has not been withdrawn.
 
The international community has time and again stated that women’s rights in Afghanistan are of paramount importance.  I understand women leaders in Afghanistan have been advocating for several years that support from the international community, including monetary support, should be made dependent on the rights of women being upheld.  As a significant donor to Afghanistan, I would ask you to heed the words of Afghan women who are being silenced.  Your support of the rebuilding of Afghanistan must prioritize gender equality as guaranteed under the Afghan Constitution and implementation of Afghanistan’s international commitments, including under the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

I urge you to act immediately.  Thank you for your attention.

Respectfully yours
*************

Please keep Equality Now updated on your efforts and send copies of any replies you receive to:
Equality Now P.O. Box 20646, Columbus Circle Station, New York NY 10023, USA
Equality Now Africa Regional Office, P.O. Box 2018, 00202, Nairobi, KENYA
Equality Now 6 Buckingham Street, London WC2N 6BU, UNITED KINGDOM

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 February 19 2011

Afghanistan will not control all women's shelters

 Anar Gul attends a sewing program provided by the US Marines Female Engagement Team in Gamser, Helmand  (AFP)

KABUL (AFP) – President Hamid Karzai said Saturday his government did not plan to take control of all shelters for abused women in Afghanistan, in an apparent contradiction of a previous announcement.

Women's affairs minister Husun Bano Ghazanfar said Tuesday that the government had proposed authorising officials to take over "all existing women's shelters in Afghanistan."

That prompted concerns from the United States and human rights groups, who said the move could put women in the shelters, currently run by rights groups and charities, at risk.

The safe houses are run by foreign and Afghan groups to protect women from domestic violence but some conservatives and clerics accuse them of being fronts for prostitution or set up to remove women from their families.

Karzai told a press conference Saturday that the problem was only with "one or two" shelters which he accused of corruption and "wastage."

"Those shelters which have conducted themselves well, which are in accordance with the procedures established and who have good transparency with what they are doing will not only be kept but supported by the Afghan government," he said.

"Those who are found in violation of the established standards and the rules and regulations will be taken over by the Afghan government."

The US said Thursday it was "concerned" by the proposed changes and urged Afghanistan to support the work of women's shelters.

"While we recognize that the government needs to monitor shelters, it is important that civil society be allowed to operate these facilities independently," said Philip Crowley, assistant secretary of state for public affairs.

US-based group Human Rights Watch ( HRW) said this week that it feared government-run shelters were more likely to yield to pressure from disgruntled families to hand back abused women to their families than independent ones.

And on Friday, the Afghan Women's Network group issued an open letter and plea for the government plans to be reversed.

"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 punish them for trying to escape," it said.
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 February 15 2011

Afghan govt to control women's shelters

Burqa-clad Afghan women walk in the old city of Kabul in October 2010. The Afghan government has announced it is to take over the running of women's shelters despite concerns from Western human rights groups that it could put lives at risk (AFP/File/Shah Marai)

KABUL (AFP) – The Afghan government on Tuesday announced it is to take over the running of women's shelters despite concerns from Western human rights groups that it could put lives at risk.

The safe houses are run by foreign and Afghan charities to protect women from domestic violence but some conservatives and clerics accuse them of being fronts for prostitution or set up to remove women from their families.

"The government of Afghanistan, after investigating the status of the safe houses, has proposed a regulation that authorises the ministry of women's affairs to assume control over all existing women's shelters in Afghanistan," women's affairs minister Husun Bano Ghazanfar told reporters.

She said taking control of shelters was part of an "Afghanization" process under which Afghan military and officials assume greater control of their war-torn country from the international community.

But human rights groups sharply condemned the plans.

US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the move could endanger lives by paving the way for the possible expulsion of women as well as compulsory forensic examinations for those staying in the shelters.

"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, an Afghanistan-based researcher for HRW.

"The government is increasingly dominated by hardline conservatives who are hostile to the very idea of shelters since they allow women some autonomy from abusive husbands and family members."

"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," she added.

Women's shelters were first opened in Afghanistan following the 2001 US-led invasion which overthrew the hardline Islamist Taliban, which banned girls from going to school.

Ghazanfar said there were currently 11 registered shelters in Afghanistan housing 210 women and girls.

While the constitution guarantees women's rights in Afghanistan, the deeply conservative country has an appalling women's rights record and a nine-year insurgency has fostered a fear of a return to the brutality of the Taliban.