Yesterday I heard the alarming news that the Afghan government plans to take over all women’s shelters in the country within weeks. I’ve written about this before and there will be more on the subject in my book, but the small number of independently run women’s shelters around Afghanistan are saving the lives of women who have nowhere else to go to escape violence that might otherwise even lead to their deaths.
The Government’s plans to take over the shelters will not only compromise the independence of the shelters, but will also bring into force new regulations and processes that run the risk of revictimising women who are trying to escape violence and, at worst, forcing the return of those women to the very people who abused them.
I’ve been in touch with friends who run women’s shelters across the country and human rights advocates in Kabul and they are very concerned. The risk is that this takeover is an attempt to shut down those few places where women can currently find protection from violent families and forced marriages.
What can we do? Well, I am assured that the Afghan human rights community is working behind the scenes to try to stop this, but my contacts in Afghanistan say that a little more encouragement can’t hurt. So I suggest we all write to the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry – one man who almost certainly has some influence in Kabul. I’ll also be writing to my own Ambassador to say the same thing. We can also write to Afghan Embassy’s in our own country and to the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs.
Another great thing to do is to sign this online petition – organised by Women for Afghan Women in New York. If you are in New York and are willing to take part in a creative act of peaceful protest when the Afghan Minister of Women’s Affairs visits New York next week leave me a comment and I’ll put you in touch with the WAW crew in New York.
Please join in, it will only take a few moments of your time. To make it easier, I’ve pulled together a sample letter which you might like to use or adapt ( this letter draws heavily on this post by Una Moore at UN Dispatch, thank you to Christine Hennebury for help drafting it):
You are in a unique position to help the most vulnerable women in Afghanistan. Please take action on their behalf.
The struggle for human rights in Afghanistan received an alarming setback this week when the Afghan government announced that it will take over all women’s shelters in the country within weeks.
Both the legal system and informal dispute settlements in Afghanistan have long been skewed against women. Independently run, safe women’s shelters are often women’s only protection against violence and even death. Less than half of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces have even one shelter for women. Yet, where shelters do exist, they save women’s lives. The Afghan government’s plan to take over these shelters endangers the few places women find protection from violent families and forced marriages.
Under the new system, women and girls seeking protection will have to plead their cases before an admissions panel of government employees and undergo medically dubious “examinations” to prove they are not guilty of adultery or prostitution. If a woman passes both tests and is admitted, she will not be allowed to leave without official permission. In effect, Afghanistan’s few refuges for abused women are about to become prisons.
The new regulations also provide that if a woman’s family comes to claim her, she must be handed over. If enforced, this rule will cost lives. Nearly all women living in Afghanistan’s shelters are survivors of violence inflicted by members of their own families.
Since 2001, donor governments including your own have cited improvements in women’s lives as a justification for continued engagement in Afghanistan. If this change goes ahead your increasingly skeptical citizens may ask why US soldiers should die fighting the Taliban when the government is enacting Taliban-style policies anyway? This latest attack on women’s rights will further erode what little support still exists amongst your citizens for the fragile Afghan state, the collapse of which would only compound Afghan women’s suffering.
Please use your position of influence to protect the rights of vulnerable Afghan women. Urge the Afghan government to reconsider this legislation and, instead, recommit itself to protecting the women of Afghanistan and the courageous human rights defenders, many of them women, who are trying to counteract years of discrimination and sexual violence against the women of Afghanistan.
Feel free to make any changes you wish to this sample letter and then email it to Ambassador Eikenberry at KabulPAS@state.gov
You do not have to be a US citizen to write to Ambassador Eikenberry, but you might like to send a similar letter to your own Ambassador as well. If you have the name and email address for other Ambassadors in Kabul please leave them in the comments and let me know if you’ve sent the letter.
Please also write to the Afghan Embassy where you are located: you can find a list of them here
You can also contact the Minister of Woman’s Affairs: firstname.lastname@example.org
PLUS, if you are in New York then you might want to organise some kind of in person message to be delivered to the Afghan Minister of Women’s Affairs when she comes to attend the United Nations Conference on Women. Any one want to take a lead on that?
Help fill the gaps
Here are a few contact details I found this morning – but please help fill the gaps:
U.S.A: Ambassador Eikenberry – KabulPAS@state.gov (Also on Twitter @USEmbassyKabul)
UK: Ambassador Patey – BritishEmbassy.Kabul@fco.gov.uk ( Also on Twitter @HMAKabul)
EU: Ambassador Ušackas – email@example.com
Canada: Ambassador Crosbie – firstname.lastname@example.org
New Zealand: Ambassador Reilly – email@example.com
Australia: Ambassador Foley – firstname.lastname@example.org
Turkey: Ambassador Basat Ozturk – email: email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org (cc to both addresses)
Belgian ambassador: Islamabad@diplobel.org
French ambassador: post a message here (there’s an English version but it doesn’t work).