01.01.2021

The Impact of the Elimination of Violence against Women Law in Afghanistan

In a new series of policy briefs, our YLFees discuss current political challenges and recommendations

The Elimination of Violence against Women Law (also known as the EVAW law) is one of the significant achievements of the government of Afghanistan, civil society, and women's rights activists. Despite many rejections, people welcomed the EVAW law. This policy brief studied the impact of EVAW on domestic violence against women. The study found that the law has not played a significant role in raising awareness about domestic violence, lowering the number of domestic abuse cases, or normalizing the concept of reporting or raising voices at the national level as expected.

Reporting domestic violence is taboo, even when violence is reported to the justice system. The trial is both long and unreliable. There are many reasons for the failure of the law's implementation; patriarchy and a culture of male supremacy are among the major factors for implementation. This brief provides some recommendations for improved performance.

Domestic Violence in the Context of Afghanistan

"As wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters, we have suffered terribly; we have been subjected to the brutality and violence of war; we have borne witness to the endless suffering of our families and our people." The quote is an excerpt from an open letter to the Taliban by many Afghan women amid the peace talks.

Gender equality, women's rights, and other women's safety-related concepts have been the center of attention in the last two decades. As a term, "domestic violence" is a complicated concept in Afghanistan. The United Nations describes domestic violence in the following way: "Domestic abuse, also called "domestic violence" or "intimate partner violence," can be defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person." Domestic issues are personal and closed household matters in Afghanistan. And because they are part of household matters, they do not need to be discussed in public or prosecuted unless it takes an extreme form. The Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) Law aims to help eliminate forms of violence and discrimination against women, including domestic violence. A significant rise can be seen in the level of awareness of women's rights, even as their insecurity and domestic violence remains an underrated and insignificant issue in the public's eye. This brief aims to study the rise of domestic violence against women despite the EVAW Law and other legal, political, and advocacy platforms at citizens' disposal. Lack of social awareness and education and weak law enforcement are among the factors leading to the current situation.

Law Enforcement

One of the aspects of the EVAW Law's legality is that it is not entirely assimilated into the state penal code. For instance, according to a UNAMA report, the law lacks explicit mention of codes condemning honor killings, leaving women vulnerable. The report articulates, "The EVAW Law offers no protection for the woman or girl who runs to escape these crimes of domestic violence and forced marriage. This situation is demonstrated by many women detained in Afghan prisons for so-called "moral crimes." Besides, limited data records show specific numbers regarding various forms of violence, especially domestic violence in Afghanistan. However, the figures below (which have been translated from the Persian version of the annual report by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) provide a clear account of the level of impact the law has had on society. They also show the number of women who reported to the formal justice system.

    As per the figure, only 30 percent of acts of physical violence against women are reported. Some of the legal cases sent to custom courts for resolution are usually settled outside of court. That is why people are afraid of the cultural stigma that comes after filing complaints. Family members and relatives usually blackmail victims to avoid legal processes as it is considered a matter of honor.

    Conflict and Cultural Roots of Violence

    Jenevieve Mannell and her colleagues, in an attempt to understand violence against women during conflict, study the experiences of those who have lived under different forms of violence. Mannell et al. use "gendered forms of violence against women" to define domestic violence, which is perpetrated not only by husbands and other male members of the family but also by mothers-in-law. They argue that armed conflict and domestic violence are related to each other, meaning that a rise in armed conflict affects the level of domestic violence as well. They also argue that since men are involved in armed conflict either directly or indirectly, they are more violent toward women. Hence, post-conflict societies are more prone to domestic violence. Although conflict and its remnants are among the igniting factors, the nature of "patriarchic culture," social norms, and male supremacy culture go beyond conflict and war. The fact that men are breadwinners and have privileged access to facilities, resources, and decision making goes beyond the history of conflict in Afghanistan. Loss of "patriarchal support" and "vulnerability to violence resulting from poverty" caused by conflict is another important finding of their study. While the mentioned factors are applicable in law enforcement, it is the nature of patriarchal norms that play a fundamental role. The existing laws could not be implemented successfully because of the nature of patriarchal norms in society, establishing the family's men as decision-makers and breadwinners. Therefore, male relatives are the ones who decide women's fate under these norms. However, an important issue is that both conflict and cultural norms are influential on how women are treated at home and in broader society.

    Conclusion

    The EVAW law, adopted in 2009, is a commitment to women's rights and their social, economic, and political wellbeing. However, the problem is that women have not achieved this goal yet. There are different types of violence against women, domestic violence being the most conspicuous. Although decades of war, as Mannell and her colleagues concluded, increases the likelihood of men becoming more violent toward women, patriarchy is part of the social hierarchy among families. Male dominance and superiority have historically been embedded through socio-cultural patterns. However, different Afghanistan platforms are insisting on women's legal, socio-political, and economic rights. More outstanding advocacy and government commitment can help improve the implementation of the EVAW law.

    Recommendations:

    •  More awareness must be raised both in rural and urban areas. Typical gender-related stereotypes and social norms are more influential than citizens' legal rights in Afghanistan, so a clear introduction of laws and regulations regarding individual citizens' rights is essential. Likewise, EVAW must become part of the education system and other educational platforms.
    • Cooperation between the government and CSOs is beneficial to the government. In collaboration with NGOs and CSOs must work on blending an amalgamation of laws with existing social norms to decrease domestic violence. Moreover, local community councils (shuras) and religious groups in rural areas must be involved in raising awareness.
    •  As the central authority, the government has the most significant role in avoiding more conflict and ensuring development. All sorts of laws are there, but implementation takes a very long time or never occurs in some cases. Hence, the government should establish a committee of men and women, old and young, to help women exercise their rights.

    Fariba Nazari is a member of the 2020/21 Young Leaders Forum.

    This article has also been published in Dari by Afghanistan Today. The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and not necessarily those of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

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