Women’s Rights in Afghanistan

Afghanistan entered a new period of instability in 2014, with important implications for human rights. The June 2014 final round of the presidential election resulted in political impasse as both candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, claimed victory after accusing each other’s teams of engaging in fraud.

On September 21, the two candidates signed a deal making Ghani the president, and Abdullah the chief executive. The bitterly fought campaign and months-long standoff raised fears of continuing instability, and lingering disagreements over the terms of the deal delayed the formation of a cabinet.

Uncertainty surrounding the political transition, along with growing pressure from Taliban insurgents, contributed to a decline in respect for human rights throughout the country, including impunity for abuses by security forces, threats to women’s rights and freedom of expression, and indiscriminate attacks that killed civilians.  

Preparations for the withdrawal of international combat troops by the end of 2014 continued, with foreign troops largely departed or sequestered in their bases. As insurgent forces launched sustained attacks on a number of vital districts, Afghan security forces suffered increasingly higher casualties on the battlefield. However, civilians still bore the brunt of the violence. The United Nations recorded a 24 percent rise in civilian casualties in the first six months of 2014 compared to 2013, most due to insurgent attacks.

Women’s rights remained under threat in 2014. In January, a provision in Afghanistan’s draft criminal procedure code became the latest in a series of attempts to roll back the already fragile legal protections for women and girls. As passed by parliament, article 26 of the draft code included “relatives of the accused,” among a list of people who “cannot be questioned as witnesses” in criminal proceedings, thereby making successful prosecutions of those committing domestic violence extremely unlikely.

In late February, President Hamid Karzai signed the law but amended article 26 by decree to state that relatives of the accused are permitted to testify voluntarily. It also allows compelled testimony from any “complainant or informant regarding the crime” and slightly narrows the definition of “relatives.”

However, the amended article still exempts many family members from being called as witnesses. In June, the government rejected recommendations from UN member countries to abolish prosecution of women for so-called moral crimes.

Other setbacks for women’s rights in 2014 included a continuing series of attacks on, threats toward, and assassinations of, high-profile women, including police women and activists, to which the government failed to respond with meaningful measures to protect women at risk.

The implementation by law enforcement officials of Afghanistan’s landmark 2009 Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women remained poor, with many cases of violence against women ignored or resolved through “mediation” that denied victims their day in court.

More positively, women’s rights activists through hard work and constant advocacy were able to inject some discussion of women’s rights into the election process. This included a successful effort by the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN) to obtain signatures from Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, after both survived the first election round, to commit to following 30 recommendations that support women’s rights. AWN and its member organizations planned to follow up with the new president to ensure his compliance.



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