Afghans Debate Gender Violence Law

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Some believe pending legislation could help tackle abuses, while others say Islam provides women with protection.

At a series of debates organised by IWPR in Afghanistan, opinion was divided on the significance of a controversial law on eradicating gender violence.

Although passed by presidential decree in 2009, the bill was rejected by parliament in May 2013, and has been shelved ever since. Conservative parliamentarians claim that it contradicts Islamic law.

Some participants in IWPR debates held in Kandahar, Kunar and Paktia provinces in late July said it was vitally important for the law to be enacted, while others argued that Afghan society was not ready for this kind of legislation.

Sahebzada Nalan, head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) department for people with disabilities in the southern Kandahar province, told the debate that anyone who opposed the gender violence law did not support human rights.

“It was mostly those who weren’t committed to women’s individual, human and civil rights who opposed the law in the lower house [of parliament], and the reason they gave was that the law contravened our customs and traditions,” he said.

Mohammad Zafar Ghurzang, a judge in Kandahar, said that several decades of war had led to people being poorly educated about legal issues and unaware of the damage caused by some customs.

“The contents of the law on eradicating violence against women mostly does not contradict Islam. If someone says it does, it’s because he doesn’t have enough information on the subject,” he Ghurzang.

Civil society activist Ahmad Zaker Patyal said that the continuing lack of security in Afghanistan meant that women’s basic rights to study and enjoy freedom of movement had been trampled on.

Hekmatullah Afghan, a legal expert in Kandahar, stressed that while most Afghan customs were beneficial, there were some that needed to be eradicated. But lawmakers still needed to take tradition into account.

“Afghanistan is an Islamic and traditional society. If we look at history, tribal elders and religious scholars have played a positive role in raising people’s public awareness and they can still contribute to this,” he said.

In the southeastern Paktia province, provincial council member Janat Khan Samkanai said that a great deal of work had been done to improve women’s lives since the overthrow of the Taleban government in 2001. Access to education, healthcare and justice had all improved, he said, but Afghan society had yet to grasp the principles of gender equality.

“It is difficult to implement the law on eradicating violence against women right now because public awareness has not been raised,” Samkanai added.

Najiba Paktiawal, a member of a women’s network in Paktia, said it was vital for the law to come into force.

“When there is no law in society, there is disorder. The law is not respected in our Afghan society. Women face many problems in remote areas,” she said.”

Zarmina Shams, head of the women’s rights section of the AIHRC for southeast Afghanistan, warned that violence against women was growing. She said 346 cases of abuse were recorded in the southeastern provinces in the first six months of this year, compared with 197 for the whole of the previous year.

Shams praised local officials for their commitment to the fight against gender violence.

“The attorney general, the courts and other state offices cooperate with us fully in identifying and investigating cases of violence against women,” she said.

Mohammad Ishaq, the head of criminal investigations at Paktia’s appeal court, said his staff did all they could to pursue perpetrators.

But in Kunar in the east of Afghanistan, some experts said that if Islamic jurisprudence provided adequate protections and that if it were adhered to, there would be no need for a gender violence law.

Sarajulhaq, head of communications at the provincial department of women’s affairs, “If our compatriots learn about Islamic tenets and act in accordance with them, there will be no sign of violence against women.”

“Islam has stressed that women should be accorded rights, but this does not happen in our society,” Saida, a resident of the village of Dam, said. “What role should religious scholars play in this regard?”

Local cleric Maulavi Najibullah Haqyar answered that local traditions sometimes ran contrary to religious precepts.

“Islam and Pashtun [rules] clash with each other in our society. Every husband and wife, every brother and sister, every father and son are involved in this confrontation, in every family,” he said. “In short, what Islam gives women is denied them by Pashtunwali [Pashtun code of conduct]. The main reason for this is illiteracy and ignorance.”

Others on the panel argued that the law should be enacted.

Naib Khan Safi, a political science lecturer at Tanwir university, said that the gender violence law had “some problems”, but rather than drop it, “it would still be better to amend the legislation”.

Rohina Mushwani, a member of the Kunar provincial council, said the law could transform women’s lives if it were applied properly.

This report is based on an ongoing series of debates conducted as part of IWPR’s Afghan Youth and Elections programme.

SOURCE: Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 24/08/2015, https://iwpr.net/global-voices/afghans-debate-gender-violence-law