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18 September 2017

Women’s rights heroine Shakiba: "I will never remain silent when I see injustice against women."

When she leaves the house to go to work in the morning, Shakiba Amiri has to think carefully about the route she takes. The wrong choice could be the difference between life and death. Her home city Kabul is a dangerous place to be walking the streets. Violent attacks shake the city almost every day. Fortunately, as yet the offices of Medica Afghanistan have suffered nothing worse than a couple of broken window panes. The security situation is a huge burden for the women’s rights defenders at Medica Afghanistan. Nonetheless, they are not allowing themselves to become discouraged. The 26-year-old legal expert Shakiba Amiri at Medica Afghanistan is working to ensure that women and girls receive justice.

She describes her motivation: "I have always wanted to help women who never receive any other support even though they are subject to various sorts of violence. I could never understand how people could do this to other people - especially men doing this to women who are their wives, sisters and mothers." So she decided to become a lawyer in order to be able to use legal means to help liberate women from violence. Ms Amiri is convinced that everyone in her country is assured the same rights by the constitution, so she asks why the laws should only be applied to benefit the men? Shakiba Amiri studied law in Kabul, participated in the recruitment program at the human rights organisation Global Rights, and took courses on gender-based violence, Sharia, victim rights and forensics.

Security situation in Afghanistan

Four years ago, she joined the legal assistance team at Medica Afghanistan. Her family supports her commitment, even if they are often concerned about her safety. In the first six months of 2017 alone, more than 1600 civilians lost their lives in shootings and attacks. For her own protection, Shakiba never talks about her work with people she does not know. Before she sets off to go to court or her office, she always informs herself about the current security situation, in order to minimise the risks. This is all the more important to her because of her love for her husband and young daughter.

Female lawyers fighting for women's rights in Afghanistan

It is a very responsible job for a young lawyer. The legal assistance team at Medica Afghanistan counsels both clients who are facing trial as defendants and women who are taking cases to court themselves after experiencing violence. On a typical day, Shakiba will see six clients - in the offices of Medica Afghanistan, in court or in prison.

Most of the women face accusations of adultery, others are defending themselves on charges of murder or drug crimes. Other women are seeking divorce on grounds of domestic violence and are fighting for custody of their children and maintenance payments. As defence counsel, Shakiba assists and advises the women through every stage of the judicial system, studies the indictment documents, and collects evidence and witness statements.

Support for imprisoned women in Afghanistan

Each week, Shakiba Amiri visits imprisoned women to update them on the progress of their case. She also refers them to psychosocial counsellors and social workers from Medica Afghanistan, who can assist them in their difficult times. In prison, many women suffer from isolation because their families break off contact with them. They often do not even know how their children are. And many face discrimination from the prison staff, too.

Domestic violence and traumatised women

There is a high incidence of severe traumatisation among the women, who often suffered years of beating, humiliation or rape from their husband or relatives. This is why Shakiba Amiri particularly values the interdisciplinary approach at Medica Afghanistan. In addition to legal advice, her clients receive psychosocial counselling to help them deal with what happened to them and regain their strength and stability. Furthermore, subsequent support from a social worker is also guaranteed.

Using the statute book to combat violence

A large number of the cases involving violence are brought under the "EVAW Law" - the Elimination of Violence against Women Law that was passed in 2009. This was a milestone in the Afghan legal system, which is otherwise very traditional. It helps to ensure better protection for women who experienced violence and it can help liberate women from violent life situations. Several hundred cases have been dealt with by the special court that was set up in Kabul for this.

Her work means that Shakiba Amiri confronts injustice every day: "I use all the means which the law places at my disposal, however small these may seem, to work against violence," proclaims the committed lawyer.

"I will never remain silent when I see injustice against women."

Successes for the Medica Afghanistan legal team

  • 49 women being prosecuted in 2016 were acquitted or released from prison after representation by Medica Afghanistan. A sentence reduction was achieved for 87 women.
  • In 27 cases, the legal team from Medica Afghanistan represented women who took the perpetrators of violence to court.
  • 183 women received assistance from Medica Afghanistan in civil cases. The judgement fell in the woman's favour in 116 of these cases and in 16 cases mediation was agreed.
  • Additionally, 242 family mediations took place in Medica Afghanistan counselling centres.

Further women's rights heroines:

During the Kosovo war Sofije was raped. Today she is fighting for justice for women who survived sexualised violence.