Although the situation of women marginally improved during the year, domestic and international gender experts considered the country very dangerous for women, and women routinely expressed concern that social, political, 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 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 2009 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 the refusal of food. The law punishes rape with 16 to 20 years in prison. 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 was not widely understood, and some in the public and the religious communities deemed the law un-Islamic.
In May a female parliamentarian presented the law to parliament seeking additional reaffirmation of women’s rights even although this was not technically necessary. 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 that it be reviewed by a parliamentary committee, where it remained at year’s end. The AIHRC, justice implementers, and civil society continued to make efforts to increase awareness of the law, despite the controversy. There was limited political will to implement the law, however, and authorities continued to fail to enforce it properly and successfully.
According to a survey by the Asia Foundation, fewer than one in five respondents said that an organization, institution, or authority existed in their area where women could go to have their problems resolved, while more than three-quarters said that there was no such organization in their area. Women who sought assistance under the EVAW law in case of rape often 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. Some female leaders believed that revisions and improvements to the EVAW law were needed, while others were primarily focused on implementation and enforcement.
As of August 1, there were 1,084 complaints registered with Violence against Women (VAW) prosecution units for crimes under the EVAW law, indicating a significant increase during the year compared with the approximately 1,500 cases registered in 2012. Provincial directorates of women’s affairs and civil society activists indicated that this also reflected increased awareness of women’s rights, which resulted in more complaints being reported. The vast majority of complaints brought under the EVAW law were resolved through family mediation. Government entities, such as the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MOWA) and law enforcement officials, referred a small number of cases, but civil society referred most of them.
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 that 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. The Ministry of Interior’s Anticrime Police reported 397 cases of violence against women in 2012. The AIHRC and VAW unit reports indicated that registered incidents of violence against women continued to increase during the year. Statistics on convictions were unavailable by year’s end. 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 common. Female victims faced stringent societal reprisal, from being deemed unfit for marriage to being imprisoned or a victim of extrajudicial killing.
In 2009, 16-year-old Gulnaz was raped by her cousin’s husband and convicted and sentenced to a 12-year sentence for the crime of “adultery by force” because she refused to marry him. In December 2011 President Karzai pardoned Gulnaz following international criticism and lobbying by human rights groups after she served two-and-a-half years of her sentence. Gulnaz went to a women’s shelter, where the law required her and her child to remain until she went to the home of a male family member. Her family refused to accept her, and in February, after 13 months in the shelter, Gulnaz bowed to social and family pressure and married her rapist.
In December 2011 police rescued a 15-year-old girl in Baghlan Province after they found her locked in a basement bathroom, having had 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’s imprisonment in May 2012. In March the Supreme Court overturned the three convictions in the case, remanding the cases to the Kabul Appellate Court for reconsideration. The Kabul Appellate Court ordered that all three defendants be released from prison. The mother-in-law and father-in-law remained incarcerated while the Supreme Court reviewed that decision.
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. According to an AIHRC report on rape and honor killing, 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. The AIHRC reported that 14.6 percent of honor killings and sexual assaults were committed by police. In January a teenage girl seeking safe haven with a local Department of Women’s Affairs allegedly was raped by six department guards while waiting to be transferred to a shelter. Some police and judicial officials were not aware or convinced that rape was a serious criminal offense, and investigating a rape case was generally not a priority. Even in instances when 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 report on rape and honor killing asserted that only 64 percent of cases referred to the justice sector were prosecuted or adjudicated correctly. The AIHRC and NGOs, however, confirmed that a majority of cases went unreported due to societal acceptance of the practice.
According to the AIHRC, between March and June there were more than 2,500 cases of violence against women reported. The AIHRC registered more than 280 women who had been killed by family members during 2011 and 2012 but asserted that most cases probably went unreported. The AIHRC also expressed concern that traditional and cultural violence, such as child and forced marriage, the practice of exchanging women to settle disputes (baadh), forced isolation, and honor killings, continued and appeared to be on the rise.
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 MOWA reported that cases of suicide as a result of domestic violence continued. 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. Space at the 29 formal and informal shelters across the country, however, was insufficient. Women who could not be reunited with their families 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” is 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 September 30, 80.4 percent of female prisoners were incarcerated for moral crimes, according to GDPDC records. The records also indicated that the number of women incarcerated increased from 683 in May 2012 to 799 in May. The AIHRC and MOWA reported that approximately 25 percent of the female prison population had been incarcerated for either zina or “running away.”
The Supreme Court acknowledged that women have a right to be free from violence in the home and indicated that women, who have left the home and approach relatives or government institutions for assistance with violence, have not committed a crime. 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 April 2012 the Attorney General’s Office issued a circular to prosecutors stating that running away was not, on its own, a crime and should not be prosecuted. In May a Human Rights Watch report stated that convictions of women for running away had decreased since 2012.
In June the juvenile rehabilitation centers in Kabul, Gardez, Balkh, Nangarhar, Kunduz, and Herat admitted to ordering virginity tests to be conducted on all 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. The tests also often were ordered by the police, prosecutors, and courts and could be used as evidence of moral crimes if authorities desired.
In 2011 the government announced a plan to bring all shelters under MOWA’s oversight. Human rights NGOs worked with MOWA to change the regulations and stop the proposed nationalization of shelters. The final shelter regulation authorizes MOWA to regulate all shelters but allows NGOs to continue to run them. In June 2012 the minister of justice equated shelters to brothels during a parliamentary conference on ending violence against women; he later apologized for the remarks. In May the parliamentary debate over the EVAW law reignited public debate over women’s shelters. One member of parliament likened the shelters to brothels, and one prominent television channel began to broadcast antishelter programming daily. While MOWA, civil society, and the international community criticized the antishelter rhetoric, the existence and independent operation of shelters continued to be an issue under analysis.
There were reports that MOWA, as well as nongovernmental entities, sought to arrange marriages for women who could not return to their families.
Female police officers 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 Ministry of Interior offered mediation and resources to prevent future domestic violence.
Harmful Traditional Practices: The EVAW law criminalizes forced or underage marriage and baadh. According to the UN 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 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. 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 report after a multi-year investigation. The commission reported that, 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 that 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.
There were reports of summary justice by the Taliban and other antigovernment elements resulting in extrajudicial executions. For example, a father executed his young daughter on April 22 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 at year’s end the father and the other three scholars remained at large.
The wide range of violence against women also included trafficking and abduction.
Sexual Harassment: There is no law specifically prohibiting 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 or 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. According to Oxfam’s September report, Women and the Police, the National Public Radio found allegations of widespread sexual abuse and rape of female police officers as well as 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 2012 State of the 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 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 that 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, were reportedly still 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 and brought no charges under the law, despite their 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. In June clerics in Baghlan Province issued a religious edict (fatwa) with provisions limiting the rights of women – similar to those under the Taliban – which banned women from leaving home without a male relative, including when visiting medical clinics, and sought to shut down cosmetic shops. The Ulama Council issued statements that called for restrictions on women’s ability to participate in society.
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 approximately 1,716 female police officers, constituting just 1.1 percent of the total police force. The government set having 5,000 female police officers by the end of the year as a goal but did not reach it. 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. The Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission Gender Directorate did not successfully implement an action plan for increasing the percentage of women in the civil service to 30 percent by 2013. At year’s end, there were at least 21 percent fewer women in the civil service than during 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. 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 lacking major influence, and men typically dominated leadership positions. Although 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 MOWA provincial offices, such as in Ghor, returned abused women to their families continued.
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.
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.