Although the situation of women marginally improved during the year, domestic and international gender experts considered the country very dangerous for women.
Pursuant to the constitution, the 2009 Shia Personal Status Law governs family and marital problems for the approximately 19 percent of the population who are Shia. Although the law officially recognizes the Shia minority, the law does not adequately protect gender equality. Articles in the law of particular concern continued to be those on minimum age of marriage, polygyny, right of inheritance, right of self-determination, freedom of movement, sexual obligations, and guardianship.
Rape and Domestic Violence: The EVAW law, which was put into effect by presidential decree, criminalizes violence against women, including rape, battery, or beating; child and forced marriage; humiliation; intimidation; and deprivation of inheritance; however, its implementation was limited. The law provides for a sentence of 16 to 20 years in prison for rape. If the act results in the death of the victim, the law provides for the death sentence for the perpetrator. The law provides for imprisonment of up to seven years for the “violation of chastity of a woman…that does not result in adultery (such as sexual touching).” Under the law rape does not include spousal rape. The law was not widely understood, and some in the public and the religious communities deemed the law un-Islamic. Authorities lacked the political will to implement the law, however, and continued to fail to enforce it fully and successfully. In 2013 the AIHRC released a report on rape and honor killing, noting the number of honor killings and sexual assaults had increased in almost every part of the country. The report stated 91 percent of the cases registered with the AIHRC during the one-year period of research were referred to the justice system. Of those cases, the AIHRC considered the legal proceedings to be “successful” 65 percent of the time. In September the New Afghanistan Women Association reported, based on statistical sampling and anecdotal reports, sexual violence against women was rising.
In May 2013 a female parliamentarian presented the EVAW law to parliament seeking additional reaffirmation of women’s rights even though this was not technically necessary, since a presidential decree has the same legal power as a law passed through parliament. This inadvertently led to the conservative male majority arguing against the law by saying the protections for women were un-Islamic. The speaker prevented the law from being overturned or amended and weakened by promptly ending debate and proposing it be reviewed by a parliamentary committee, where it remained as of October 15. The AIHRC, justice implementers, and civil society continued to make efforts to increase awareness of the law, despite the controversy. Some female leaders believed revisions and improvements to the EVAW law were needed, while others focused primarily on implementation and enforcement. In June members of the High Commission for the Elimination of Violence Against Women met with the deputy minister of justice to advocate against moving the law back to parliament for debate.
The Attorney General’s Office established the first specialized EVAW prosecution unit in Kabul in 2010. The Attorney General’s Office continued to expand the number of EVAW units, and, as of August 23, it reported having official EVAW units in 18 provinces. In other provinces the Attorney General’s Office assigned prosecutors to handle cases of violence against women on at least a part-time basis. A December 2013 UN report found provinces with dedicated EVAW units tried, registered, and convicted more cases than those without an EVAW unit.
As of August 1, a total of 1,076 complaints were registered with eight of the EVAW units for crimes under the EVAW law; numbers from the remaining units were unavailable. Provincial directorates of women’s affairs and civil society activists indicated increased awareness of women’s rights had resulted in an increase in the number of complaints reported. The vast majority of complaints brought under the EVAW law were resolved through family mediation. In its First Report on the Implementation of the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) Law in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs reported in March 41 percent of registered cases of violence against women had been resolved through mediation or processes other than legal proceedings. Government entities, such as the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and law enforcement officials, referred a small number of cases, but civil society organizations referred most cases to EVAW units.
Prosecutors and judges in some remote provinces were unaware of the EVAW law, and others were subject to community pressure to release defendants due to familial loyalties, threat of harm, or bribes. Reports indicated men accused of rape often claimed the victim agreed to consensual sex, leading to adultery charges against the victim, or made false claims of marriage to the victim.
Rapes were difficult to document due to social stigma. Male victims seldom came forward due to fear of retribution or additional exploitation by authorities, but peer sexual abuse was reportedly common. Female victims faced stringent societal reprisal, from being deemed unfit for marriage to being imprisoned or a victim of extrajudicial killing.
According to a survey by the Asia Foundation, less than a quarter (21 percent) of women surveyed knew of an organization, institution, or authority in their area where women could go to have their problems resolved. Women who sought assistance in case of rape often became subjects of virginity tests and in some instances had their cases converted into adultery cases. Interpretations of sharia also impeded successful prosecution of rape cases.
In May the media reported in Kunduz Province a mullah raped a 10-year-old girl to whom he was giving religious instruction. Authorities took the girl to a women’s shelter due to fear she would become the victim of an honor killing. She returned to her family two months later after her parents and others in the community gave assurances to the Attorney General’s Office she would not be harmed. Authorities arrested the mullah, and in October a court sentenced him to 20 years in prison and fined him 1.5 million Afghani ($26,000). In July the media also reported on the case of a 22-year-old woman who committed suicide after being kidnapped and raped by several armed men in Baghlan Province as well as on the case of another woman in the province whose husband burned her with boiling water before killing her.
The penal code criminalizes assault, and courts entered judgments against domestic abusers under this provision. According to NGO reports, hundreds of thousands of women continued to suffer abuse at the hands of their husbands, fathers, brothers, armed individuals, parallel legal systems, and institutions of state, such as the police and justice systems. The AIHRC’s June 2013 national inquiry on rape and honor killing noted murders, assaults, and sexual violence against women commonly involved family members as suspects.
Police response to domestic violence was limited, in part due to low reporting, sympathetic attitudes toward perpetrators, and limited protection for victims. There were reports of government officials’ complicity in violations of the EVAW law. An AIHRC report stated through August there were 39 cases of violence against women committed by security forces. In February, nine border police in Takhar Province kidnapped, raped, and murdered an 18-year-old girl; authorities arrested six of the perpetrators. Some police and judicial officials were not aware or convinced rape was a serious criminal offense, and investigating rape cases was generally not a priority. Even in instances in which justice officials took rape seriously, some cases reportedly did not proceed due to bribery, family or tribal pressure, or other interference during the process. The AIHRC’s June 2013 report on rape and honor killing asserted only 64 percent of cases referred to the justice sector were prosecuted or adjudicated correctly. The AIHRC and NGOs, however, confirmed most cases went unreported due to societal acceptance of the practice.
According to the AIHRC, more than 1,250 cases of violence against women were reported as of August 1. The AIHRC also expressed concern traditional and cultural violence, such as child and forced marriage, the practice of exchanging women to settle disputes (baad), forced isolation, and honor killings continued and appeared to be on the rise. Accurate statistics on the extent of violence against women were difficult to obtain.
Most women did not seek legal assistance for domestic or sexual abuse because they did not know their rights or because they feared prosecution or return to their family or the perpetrator. Women sometimes turned to shelters for assistance and sometimes practiced self-immolation, and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs reported there continued to be cases of suicide as a result of domestic violence. According to NGOs that ran women’s shelters countrywide, police continued to make up a significant portion of referrals, likely reflecting improved ANP training and awareness. Space at the 28 formal shelters across the country, however, was sometimes insufficient. Women who could not be reunited with their families or remarry were compelled to remain in shelters indefinitely because “unaccompanied” women were not commonly accepted in society. The difficulty of finding durable solutions for women compelled to stay in shelters was compounded by societal attitudes toward shelters, the belief that “running away from home” was a serious violation of social mores, and the continued victimization of women who were raped but perceived by society as adulterers.
Women in need of shelter but who could not find it often ended up in prison, either due to a lack of shelter alternatives, for their own protection, or based on local interpretation of “running away” as a moral crime. Adultery, fornication, and kidnapping are crimes under the law. Women often were convicted of those crimes in situations of abuse, rape, or forced marriage, or on the basis of invalid evidence, including flawed virginity tests. Running away is not a crime under the law. As of July 31, approximately 58 percent of female prisoners were incarcerated for moral crimes, according to GDPDC records, a decrease from 80.5 percent in 2013. The decrease was likely a result of a March presidential decree releasing women convicted of moral crimes.
The Supreme Court acknowledged in a 2010 circular women have a right to be free from violence in the home and indicated that women who leave home and approach relatives or government institutions for assistance with violence have not committed a crime. At the same time, the Supreme Court maintained if a woman sought refuge with someone other than a relative or a competent government institution, the act of running away could be treated as a discretionary crime on the grounds it could result in the commission of a crime such as zina or prostitution. There were reports some justice officials conflated running away with the intent to commit adultery and proceeded with prosecution without regard to the conditions that prompted the woman to leave her home. In 2012 the Attorney General’s Office issued a circular to prosecutors stating running away was not, on its own, a crime and should not be prosecuted. In May 2013 a Human Rights Watch report stated convictions of women for running away had decreased since 2012.
In June 2013 the juvenile rehabilitation centers in Kabul, Paktiya, Balkh, Nangarhar, Kunduz, and Herat admitted to facilitating virginity tests on female detainees and prisoners. The tests, conducted at hospitals by the Ministry of Public Health, involved a gynecological examination to detect the presence of the hymen. Police, prosecutors, and courts often ordered the tests, which could be used as evidence of moral crimes if authorities desired.
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs regulates all shelters operated by NGOs. Ministry and civil society shelter operators worked together to launch on August 18 the Women’s Protection Centers Guidelines, which contain best practices gathered by the five civil society organizations that make up the Afghan Shelter Network.
In May 2013 parliamentary debate over the EVAW law reignited a public debate over women’s shelters, which some public figures compared to brothels. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, civil society, and the international community criticized the antishelter rhetoric. The existence of shelters continued to be culturally controversial throughout most of the country.
There were reports the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, as well as nongovernmental entities, sought to arrange marriages for women who could not return to their families.
Instructions to wait for victims to reach out to them hindered female police officers trained to help victims of domestic violence. There were 283 female response unit investigators working in 33 of 34 provinces. These units were staffed by police officers, some of whom were female, who addressed violence and crimes against women, children, and families. Women serving in civilian and ANP positions in the Ministry of Interior offered mediation and resources to prevent future domestic violence.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM is not a common or culturally accepted practice in the country. The law does not specifically address FGM/C.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The EVAW law criminalizes forced or underage marriage and baad, as well as interference with a woman’s right to choose her spouse. According to the United Nations and Human Rights Watch, an estimated 70 percent of marriages were forced. Despite laws banning the practice, many brides continued to be younger than the legal marriage age of 16 (or 15 with a guardian’s and a court’s approval). A survey of married women between the ages of 20 and 24 found 39 percent married before the age of 18. Very few marriages were registered, leaving forced marriages outside legal control. There were reports women who sought assistance under the EVAW law in cases of forced marriage or rape became subjects of virginity tests.
Local officials occasionally imprisoned women at the request of family members for opposing the family’s choice of a marriage partner or on charges of adultery or bigamy. There were also reports local officials imprisoned women in place of a family member who had committed a crime but could not be located. Some women remained in detention facilities because they had run away from home to escape domestic violence or the prospect of forced marriage.
The AIHRC released its national inquiry on rape and honor killing in 2013 after a multiyear investigation. The commission reported between March 21, 2011, and April 21, 2013, there were 406 reported cases of honor killings and sexual assaults registered with the AIHRC. The unreported number was believed to be much higher and to include cases of suicide and self-immolation. Under the penal code, a man convicted of honor killing after finding his wife committing adultery cannot be sentenced to more than two years’ imprisonment. During the year honor killings continued, although accurate statistics were difficult to obtain. In May an 18-year-old named Amina from Bamiyan Province ran away to avoid marrying a man to whom her family had forcibly betrothed her. She agreed to return home after her father and brother signed guarantees she would not be harmed. Her father and brother claimed a gang of gunmen dragged her out of her family’s vehicle and shot her to death, while her brother and father were unharmed. Police blamed the jilted fiance’s family, but women’s activists accused Amina’s family of staging her killing. A lawyer at the Afghan Women’s Network estimated 150 cases of honor killing occurred annually, based on statistics collected during the past five years. Fewer than half of the cases were formally reported, and very few resulted in convictions.
There were reports of summary justice by the Taliban and other antigovernment elements resulting in extrajudicial executions. For example, a father executed his daughter in April 2013 in front of a crowd estimated at 300 persons in Badghis Province. Four religious scholars issued the execution order for alleged adultery and “running away.” Later one of the scholars was arrested for ties to the Taliban, but the father and the other three scholars remained at large.
The wide range of violence against women also included trafficking and abduction.
Sexual Harassment: No law specifically prohibits sexual harassment. In July the Ministry of Interior established a directive on sexual harassment, but it was not implemented. Women who walked outside alone or went to work often experienced abuse or harassment, including groping, or were followed on the streets in urban areas. Women who took on public roles that challenged gender stereotypes (such as female lawmakers, political leaders, NGO leaders, police officers, and news broadcasters) continued to be intimidated by conservative elements and received death threats directed at them or their families. NGOs reported violence against women working in the public and nonprofit sectors, including killings, and initiated awareness-raising campaigns to mobilize groups against harassment. Female members of the ANP reported harassment by their male counterparts, and there were reports of intimidation of and discrimination against female ANP members and their families in their communities. In 2013 an Oxfam report cited a foreign media account of allegations of widespread sexual abuse and rape of female police officers and evidence that senior police officers demanded sexual favors in exchange for promotions.
Reproductive Rights: Women generally exercised little decision-making authority regarding marriage, timing and number of pregnancies, birthing practices, and child education.
Couples were free from government discrimination, coercion, and violence to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, although family and community pressures to reproduce, the high prevalence of child and early marriages, and lack of accurate biological knowledge continued to limit their ability to do so. Women could expect to bear on average 5.1 children in their lifetimes. Oral contraceptives, intrauterine devices, injectable contraceptives, and condoms were available commercially and were provided at no cost in public health facilities and at subsidized rates in private health facilities and through community health workers. According to the World Health Organization, UN, and World Bank Trends in Maternal Mortality Report: 1990-2013, the maternal mortality rate in 2013 was 400 deaths per 100,000 live births. Although this represented a two-thirds reduction in maternal mortality since 1995, early marriage and pregnancy put girls at greater risk for premature labor, complications during delivery, and death in childbirth. Postpartum hemorrhage and obstructed labor were key causes of maternal mortality. A skilled health practitioner attended only 34 percent of births, and just 21 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern form of contraception.
Discrimination: Women who reported cases of abuse or who sought legal redress for other matters reported discrimination within the judicial system. Some observers, including female judges, asserted that discrimination was a result of faulty implementation of law and cultural nuances, rather than the law itself. A woman’s limited access to money and other resources to pay fines (or bribes) and the social requirement for women to have a male guardian affected women’s access to and participation in the judicial system. Local practices were discriminatory against women in some areas, particularly in parts of the country where courts were not functional or knowledge of the law was minimal. Judges in some remote districts acknowledged wide influence by tribal authorities in preempting cases from the formal justice system. In the informal system, elders relied on interpretations of sharia and tribal customs, which generally discriminated against women. Many women reported limited access to justice in male-dominated tribal shuras, where proceedings focused on reconciliation with the community and family rather than the rights of the individual. Women in some villages were not allowed any access to dispute resolution mechanisms. Lack of awareness of their legal rights and illiteracy also limited women’s ability to access justice. Women’s advocacy groups reported in some cases the government intervened informally with local courts to encourage them to interpret laws in ways favorable to women. Many cases in remote districts, however, reportedly were resolved according to the local police officer’s or prosecutor’s discretion or interpretation of the law. When legal authorities were aware of the EVAW law and its implementation, women were in some cases able to get appropriate assistance. Prosecutors in some provinces, however, continued to be reluctant to use the EVAW law, despite their awareness of its existence. Moreover, in cases in which prosecutors brought charges under the EVAW law, judges would sometimes replace those charges with others based on the penal code.
Police, prosecutors, and judges discriminated against women in criminal and civil legal proceedings stemming from violence and forced marriages. Enhanced availability of legal aid, including through female attorneys, provided some relief in formal justice system proceedings.
Cultural prohibitions on free travel and leaving the home unaccompanied prevented many women from working outside the home and reduced their access to education, health care, police protection, and other social services. In June 2013 clerics in Baghlan Province issued a religious edict (fatwa) with provisions limiting the rights of women – similar to those under the Taliban – that banned women from leaving home without a male relative, including when visiting medical clinics, and sought to shut down cosmetic shops.
The law provides for equal work without discrimination, but there are no provisions for equal pay for equal work. Women faced discrimination in access to employment and terms of occupation. Some educated urban women found substantive work, but many were relegated to menial tasks. There were 2,074 female police officers as of July 31, constituting approximately 1 percent of the total police force. In January the government appointed the first female police chief to lead a district in Kabul. While the government made efforts to recruit additional female police officers, cultural customs and discrimination rendered recruitment and retention difficult. Women in high-profile positions of government service continued to be the subjects of threats and violence. On July 3, unknown assailants shot and killed Ilam Bibi, the highest-ranking female police officer in Helmand Province, on her way to work.
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and NGOs continued to promote women’s rights and freedoms. The Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission Gender Directorate did not successfully implement an action plan to increase the percentage of women in the civil service to 30 percent by 2013. The directorate reported women made up 24.1 percent of government employees at the end of 2013, up from 21.1 percent in 2012. According to the AIHRC, many women in the civil service could not meet the minimum qualification of a bachelor’s degree imposed by the priority reform and restructuring system. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the primary government agency responsible for addressing gender policy and the needs of women, had offices in all provinces and established gender units in all ministries. Gender units were established at low ranks lacking major influence, and men typically dominated leadership positions. Although the ministry’s provincial offices assisted hundreds of women by providing legal and family counseling and referring women, they could not directly assist relevant organizations. The ministry and provincial line directorates continued to suffer from a lack of capacity and resources. Reports continued the provincial offices returned abused women to their families.
Despite improvements in health over the past decade, the overall health situation of women and children remained poor, particularly among nomadic and rural populations and those in insecure areas. Similar to men, female life expectancy was 64 years of age. Rural women continued to suffer disproportionately from insufficient numbers of skilled health personnel, particularly female health workers.
Compared to men, women and children were disproportionately victims of preventable deaths due to communicable diseases. Although free health services were provided in public facilities, many households could not afford certain costs related to medicines or transportation to health-care facilities, and many women were not permitted to travel to health-care facilities on their own.