Although the situation of women marginally improved during the year, international gender experts considered the country very dangerous for women, and women routinely expressed concern that social and economic gains would be lost in the post-2014 transition. Pursuant to the constitution, the 2009 Shia Personal Status Law governs family and marital issues for the approximately 19 percent of the population who are Shia. Although the law officially recognized the Shia minority, the law was controversial both domestically and internationally due to its failure to promote gender equality. Articles in the law of particular concern include those on minimum age of marriage, polygymy, right of inheritance, right of self-determination, freedom of movement, sexual obligations, and guardianship.
Rape and Domestic Violence: The 2009 EVAW law criminalizes violence against women, including rape, battery, or beating; humiliation; intimidation; and the refusal of food. The law punishes rape with “continued imprisonment,” widely interpreted to mean life imprisonment although not always implemented as such. If the act results in the death of the victim, the law provides for the death sentence for the perpetrator. The law punishes the “violation of chastity of a woman…that does not result in adultery (such as touching)” with imprisonment of up to seven years. Under the law rape does not include spousal rape. The law, which was implemented by presidential decree, had limited support in parliament. The law was not widely understood, as some in the public and religious community deemed the law un-Islamic. The AIHRC, justice implementers, and civil society made efforts to increase awareness of the law. However, there was limited political will to implement the law, and a lack of its successful and proper enforcement continued.
According to a survey by The Asia Foundation, less than one in five respondents said that an organization, institution, or authority existed in their area where women can go to have their problems resolved, while more than three-quarters said that there was no such organization in their area. There were reports that women who sought assistance under the EVAW law in a case of rape were subjected to virginity tests and in some instances had their cases converted into adultery cases. Interpretations of Sharia also impeded successful prosecution of rape cases. Female leaders believed that revisions and improvements to the EVAW law were needed but feared that presenting the law to parliament for review would result in it being overturned or amended to the law’s detriment.
During the year 1,352 complaints were brought to the Violence Against Women (VAW) prosecution units for crimes under the EVAW law, marking a significant increase over the 500 cases registered in 2011. Provincial directorates of women’s affairs indicated this reflected increased awareness of women’s rights more so than an increase in the incidence of violence against women. The vast majority of complaints brought under the EVAW law were resolved through family mediation. The Kabul VAW unit prosecuted 38 cases and obtained 28 convictions, with 10 acquittals. Government entities such as the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and law enforcement officials referred a small number of cases, but civil society referred most cases.
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. Reported indicated that men accused of rape often claimed the victim agreed to consensual sex or made false claims of marriage to the victim, leading to adultery charges against the victim. The MOI’s Anti-Crime Police reported 397 cases of violence against women during the year; most NGO observers believed the actual number of cases was probably much higher. Statistics on convictions were unavailable by year’s end. Rapes were difficult to document due to social stigma. Male victims seldom came forward, but peer sexual abuse was allegedly common. Female victims faced stringent societal reprisal, from being deemed unfit for marriage to being imprisoned to being a victim of extrajudicial killing.
In December 2011 President Karzai pardoned Gulnaz, an 18-year-old rape victim, and her eight-month-old baby following international criticism and lobbying by human rights groups after she served two and one-half years of a 12-year sentence for the crime of “adultery by force.” Although released from prison, Gulnaz, like many women accused of moral crimes, remained in a shelter with her child; her family did not accept her, and she was unable to live freely without a male family member.
In response to the controversy surrounding the Gulnaz case and other cases involving women prosecuted for perceived moral crimes, President Karzai issued a series of pardons, and the AGO issued guidance in April to prosecutors informing them not to proceed with unjustifiable charges of this nature. While implementation of the EVAW law remained weak, there were reports of successful prosecutions by the VAW units in the AGO, including a 16-year sentence for throwing acid on a woman and a 12-year sentence for rape.
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 police and justice systems. A UN women’s commission report released in January 2011 found that 87 percent of women were victims of domestic violence, and AIHRC reports indicated that violence against women increased during the year. Observers believed this could either be a sign of increased physical violence or indicate increased reporting as a result of greater awareness of legal rights and resources. Killing, assault, 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 towards perpetrators, and limited protection for victims. There were reports of government officials’ complicity in violations of the EVAW law. For example, in November several ALP members were convicted under the EVAW law for an assault on a woman in Kunduz. Some police and judicial officials were not aware or convinced that rape was a serious criminal offense, and investigating a rape case was in some cases not a priority. Even in instances when some justice officials took rape seriously, some cases reportedly fell apart due to bribery, family or tribal pressure, or other interference at some point during the process. NGOs confirmed that domestic violence occurred in many homes but went largely unreported due to societal acceptance of the practice.
According to the AIHRC, between March and June there were 1,748 cases of violence against women reported, of which 475 were cases of physical violence and 152 were cases of sexual abuse. A total of 1,121 cases were classified as traditional and cultural violence, such as child and forced marriages, the practice of exchanging women to settle disputes (baadh), forced isolation, and honor killings. 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, with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs reporting that there were more than 171 cases of suicide as a result of domestic violence. NGOs that ran women’s shelters in Kabul reported an increase in referrals from police, likely reflecting improved ANP training and awareness. Women’s access to shelters also increased due to international efforts to open new shelters and expand to more remote provinces. However, space at the 21 formal and informal shelters across the country was insufficient. Women who could not be reunited with their families were compelled to remain in shelters indefinitely due to the fact that “unaccompanied” women are 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” is a serious violation of social mores, and the ongoing victimization of women who were raped but perceived by society as adulterers.
Women in need of shelter who could not find a place 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. According to a March Human Rights Watch report, up to 70 percent of the approximately 700 female prisoners in the country had been imprisoned for the act. The report asserted that these women were nearly always fleeing forced marriage or domestic violence. The AIHRC and MOWA indicated the actual number was lower, at approximately 25 percent of the 700 women and girls incarcerated. The Supreme Court acknowledged that women have a right to be free from violence in the home and indicated that women who leave the home and approach relatives or government institutions for assistance with violence committed no crime. However, there were reports that 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 2011 the government announced a plan to bring all shelters under the MOWA’s oversight. Human rights NGOs worked with the MOWA to change the regulations and stop the proposed nationalization of shelters. The final shelter regulation authorizes the MOWA to regulate all shelters but allows NGOs to continue to run them. In June the Minister of Justice made comments at a parliamentary conference on ending violence against women that equated shelters to brothels; he later apologized for the remarks. While the MOWA, civil society, and the international community criticized these statements, the existence and independent operation of shelters continued to be an issue under analysis.
There were reports that the MOWA, as well as nongovernment entities, sought to arrange marriages for women who could not return to their families.
Policewomen trained to help victims of domestic violence were hindered by instructions to wait for victims to reach out. There were 355 Female Response Unit investigators nationwide working out of 146 offices, which were staffed primarily by female police officers who addressed violence and crimes against women, children, and families. Women serving in civilian and ANP positions in the MOI offered mediation and resources to prevent future domestic violence.
Extended family violence was reportedly widespread and difficult to prosecute. In July 2011 a prosecutor in Uruzgan Province released on bail the father-in-law of Bibi Aisha, the 16-year-old girl from Uruzgan Province whose husband and in-laws cut off her nose and ears in September 2009 because she had run away after years of domestic violence. The accused had served 11 months in jail without movement on the prosecution of the case, possibly because the victim was unable to testify. In August there were reports that her husband had possibly fled to Pakistan.
Harmful Traditional Practices: The EVAW law criminalizes forced or underage marriage and baadh. An estimated 70 percent of marriages were forced, and despite laws banning the practice, a large proportion of brides were younger than the legal marriage age of 16 (or 15 with a guardian’s and a court’s approval). In December 2011 a 15-year-old woman in Baghlan Province was rescued by police after being locked in a basement bathroom, having her fingernails pulled out, and being forced into prostitution by her 30-year-old husband and in-laws. The husband escaped arrest, but a court sentenced her mother-in-law and sister-in-law to 10-year sentences in May. A survey of married women ages 20 to 24 found that 39 percent had been married before the age of 18. Very few marriages were registered, leaving forced marriages outside legal control. There were reports that women who sought assistance under the EVAW law in cases of forced marriage or rape were subjected to virginity tests.
Local officials occasionally imprisoned women at the request of family members for opposing the family’s choice of a marriage partner or being charged with adultery or bigamy. There were also reports that local officials imprisoned women in place of a family member who had committed a crime but could not be located. Human Rights Watch reported that 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 reported a significant increase to 60 honor killings during the first half of the year; however, the unreported number was believed to be much higher and thought to include reported cases of suicide and self-immolation that actually covered honor killings. 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. In July a woman and her two children were beheaded in Ghazni Province after the woman divorced her husband. Police were still searching for the husband at year’s end.
The wide range of violence against women also included trafficking and abduction.
Sexual Harassment: There is no law specifically prohibiting sexual harassment. 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 or received death threats to their or their families’ lives. 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 and discrimination of female members of the ANP and their families in their communities.
Reproductive Rights: Women generally exercised little decision-making authority regarding marriage, timing 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, but 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, injectables, 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 2012 State of World Population Report, the maternal mortality rate in 2010 was 460 deaths per 100,000 live births. Although the situation improved, early marriage and pregnancy still 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. Only 34 percent of births were attended by a skilled health practitioner, and only 16 percent of 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. In some cases, including one case in Paktiya Province in March, tribal shuras adjudicated matters and executed sentences far exceeding their commonly recognized authority, including authorizing the death penalty for sexual activity. Many women reported limited access to justice in male-dominated tribal shuras, where inquiries 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 that in some cases the government intervened informally with local courts to encourage them to interpret laws in ways favorable to women. However, many cases in remote districts still were reportedly 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. However, prosecutors in some provinces, such as Paktiya, continued to be reluctant to use the EVAW law and brought no charges under the law despite awareness of its existence.
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. The Ulama Council issued statements that called for restrictions on women’s ability to participate in society. 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 approximately 1,563 female police officers, constituting just 1.1 percent of the total police force. The government’s goal was to have 5,000 female police officers by 2014, but with just 350 female officers recruited during the year, reaching that goal appeared unlikely. While the government made efforts to recruit additional female police officers, cultural mores and discrimination rendered recruitment and retention difficult.
The MOWA and NGOs continued to promote women’s rights and freedoms. While the Independent Administrative Reform & Civil Service Commission Gender Directorate worked on implementation of an action plan for increasing the percentage of women in the civil service to 30 percent by 2013, the percentage of women in the civil service decreased to 21 percent during the year. 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 MOWA, 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, and men typically dominated leadership positions. Although the MOWA 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 that the MOWA provincial offices returned abused women to their families led to protests in some provinces and Kabul.
The country achieved substantial improvements in health over the past decade, and public health statistics indicated a drop in maternal mortality. The overall health situation of women and children remained poor, however, particularly among nomadic and rural populations and those in insecure areas. Similar to males, 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.
Women and children were disproportionately the victims of preventable deaths due to communicable diseases compared with men. 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 facilities on their own.