Taliban gains in Afghanistan putting key legal protections ‘for women at risk’

Taliban gains in Afghanistan putting key legal protections ‘for women at risk’
Woman whose husband frequently beat her says his parents informed her ‘a husband has such rights’

Taliban gains in Afghanistan as America withdraws troops is placing key legal protections for women at risk, according to new research.

A study, carried out by Human Rights Watch, found the poor implementation of the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law has resulted in many women and girls being blocked from safety and justice.

The landmark legislation, which was ordered by the president in 2009 and reconfirmed in 2018, criminalised 22 forms of abuse towards women, such as rape, battery, forced marriage, blocking women from obtaining property or from going to school or work.

But the law, which spawned a backlash from conservatives in the Afghan judiciary and parliament, remains plagued with issues and could be at further risk due to mounting Taliban control.

The fresh research states the police, prosecutors, and judges often discourage women from filing complaints and force them into pursuing mediation in their family or reconciling with their abusive husbands.

“For women who experience abuse, family pressure, financial dependence, stigma associated with filing a complaint, and fear of reprisals, including losing their children, have also created formidable obstacles to registering cases,” researchers state.

“From the moment an Afghan woman or girl decides to file a complaint under the EVAW law, she faces resistance. In many cases involving violence from a male family member – often the husband – police discourage women from filing a case and pressure her to go home and reconcile.

“A woman in Herat whose husband frequently beat her said that when she complained, his parents told her that ‘a husband has such rights’.”

While a woman who was beaten repeatedly by her father and her husband said the prosecutor and her lawyer told her to go back home and “sacrifice herself for her children”, researchers said.

The report explains that women generally have no access to lawyers, while the police’s refusal to arrest suspects is one of the most common reasons cases go nowhere and perpetrators evade justice.

Many women and girls who do come forward to report sexual violence and other crimes say they are forced to endure the highly inhumane practice of vaginal examinations which are known as so-called “virginity tests”.

Highly-intrusive and potentially traumatic vaginal examinations, to see if the hymen is intact, are deemed a serious infringement of human rights by the United Nations. But purported results from the tests are often used as evidence in court in Afghan – at times even helping to secure lengthy jail sentences for women and girls.

“It’s vital for Afghanistan’s international partners to continue to provide substantial financial and political support to preserve the legal reforms that ensure protections for women facing violence inside and outside the home,” Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said.

It comes after a recent Human Rights Watch report found Taliban forces are intentionally targeting journalists, including women, in Afghanistan. Researchers warned threats and attacks against reporters have starkly increased since discussions started between the Afghan government and the Taliban.