Human Rights – for Women, too!
Domestic violence, forced marriage, rape and honour killing are serious breaches of human rights which women and girls in Afghanistan are confronted with on a daily basis. This violence is insufferable for many of them and some see only one way out: taking their own life.
So Medica Afghanistan is campaigning among politicians and in society at large for the implementation and realisation of equal rights for women in Afghanistan. By providing practical psychosocial and legal support to women and girls, Medica Afghanistan finds out the real facts about the situations women in the country face. Its team draws up political concepts and campaigns in order to have an influence on society and political decisions.
Struggle against forced and child marriage
Afghan law makes child marriage and forced marriages illegal, prescribing a minimum marriage age of 16. Despite this, approx. 80 per cent of marriages are forced and half of the brides are less than 16 years old. Since there is no systematic marriage registry, it is difficult for the state to control this. Studies show that over 60 per cent of women who are married as children or forced into marriage then go on to suffer violence at the hands of their husband’s family.
Many Afghan childhood brides become pregnant at far too young an age, leading to health problems during the pregnancy and birth, since the body of a 12-year-old, for example, is simply not ready for pregnancy. The consequences can be severe and chronic damage or even death. Forced separation of the women from their own family, often linked with serious violence within the family of their husband, also have tremendous psychological effects on the girls.
Awareness raising and education about children’s rights and legal marriages
Medica Afghanistan specifically targets forced and child marriages, educating families, judges and the public about their consequences. In September 2009 the organisation risked a particularly proactive measure: working together with the Afghan Ministry of Islamic Affairs, 36 spiritual leaders (mullahs) from in and around Kabul were educated about children’s rights and legal marriages. A second such workshop was then held in Herat in May 2010. (Report on the workshops with mullahs by Ann Jones)
medica mondiale had already started campaigning against child and forced marriages in Afghanistan as early as 2005. Local councils and justice authorities were informed about the serious effects on the affected women’s physical and psychological health. In 2007, medica mondiale carried out a large-scale action to promote the registration of marriages: marriage certificates were drawn up, posters were printed, radio advertisements produced and the first 35 judges trained. The aim was to promote marriage registration in order to make it more difficult to carry out child and forced marriages.
A real example: “I’d rather die than carry on suffering” – an Afghan woman’s tale
My cousin was married off at the age of 20 in April 2005. After one year her husband went to find work in Iran. My cousin still didn’t have any children and stayed behind with her parents-in-law, who treated her very badly. They taunted her and insulted her because she hadn’t become pregnant, threatening to find a second wife for their son. Because of this, my cousin became very depressed and tried to set fire to herself. When I heard about this I rushed to her house to see her – she had not been taken to hospital, despite her injuries. I asked the parents-in-law why she tried to burn herself. “Because she is crazy,” was their answer. She was badly injured but could still speak, so I asked her why she did it. “To face a single death is better than dying every day anew.” She died 24 hours later as a result of her untreated burns.
Preventing violence against women – by law
In 2009 a new law entered into force that defines and penalises various types of violence against women. For the first time, rape is now a statutory offence in Afghanistan and domestic violence is also recognised as a crime. This could lead to an improvement in the lives of many Afghan women, but there is still very little enforcement of the new law. Hardly any of the judges, state prosecutors or defence lawyers know about the law and even if they do, this doesn’t mean they all accept it. So Medica Afghanistan has set itself the object of informing society and the legal community about the law and campaigning for genuine acceptance.
Revision of family law
Afghan family law includes regulations that create disadvantages for women and girls. For example, men can file for divorce without reason but women can’t. And in the case of divorce, the fathers are generally given custody of the children: only girls aged nine or less and boys seven or less are allowed to stay with their mother. Medica Afghanistan is a member of a commission comprising representatives of both government and civil society working towards changes in family law. In 2010 it presented its proposed revision of the law.
The proposed changes include:
- raising the minimum age for marriage for girls from 16 to 18;
- making it easier for women to file for divorce due to domestic violence or the absence of their husband; and
- increasing the age limit for children to be able to stay with their mother after a divorce.
The new draft law is being examined by the Ministry of Justice and is due to be presented to the parliament afterwards. However, conservative forces are very influential in the Afghan government and especially in the Ministry of Justice, so there are fears that the law will not make easy progress. For this reason, Medica Afghanistan has decided to set another focal point of its work as working towards the acceptance of the new proposals by seeking out dialogue with members of the government and parliament.