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19. December 2014

Monika Hauser reports from the conference on the EVAW Law and the successes of Medica Afghanistan

I am often asked where my colleagues and I find the strength to keep up our struggle to end violence against women. My answer is: From the rage I feel about this violence and from my will to change things. I also find strength in the positive experiences I have, the successes in our political work, and above all, the encounters with women activists around the world working with us and whom we can help through our work. Today I would like to tell you about some encouraging encounters during my most recent trip.

In November I attended the first conference on the EVAW Law (Elimination of Violence against Women), which had been organised in Kabul by Medica Afghanistan. In front of a mixed, Afghan-international audience, long-term colleagues presented the complex facts of the case. It was a great pleasure to see how far they have come and how confidently they present these issues today.

Specific interpretations of the Sharia make it difficult to implement the EVAW Law

This law sets a totally new direction for Afghanistan by, for example, unequivocally classifying rape as a crime. Some members of parliament and religious leaders are using their interpretations of Sharia to massively oppose the new law. The main aim of the conference was to discuss the claim that “this law is un-Islamic”. Considering that the prevailing mood in the country is extremely misogynist, the participants in the sometimes controversial debates at the conference demonstrated great courage as they examined issues of women’s and family law. Violence against women cannot be justified using the Sharia: this was a clear conclusion from the discussions and it is also the attitude of moderate religious leaders in Afghanistan. During the conversations in the corridors, numerous participants were heard stating there is hardly any organisation in the country other than Medica Afghanistan which could have organised a conference such as this one.

However, as well as the pride I feel for my colleagues’ achievements, I also have empathy for their exhaustion. I imagine being exposed to these misogynist opinions day in, day out, and constantly having to defend my own work. As well as hearing the most tragic biographies and situations being related by every new client. An amazing inner strength is needed to face each new day in these circumstances.

Success for Medica Afghanistan despite misogynist mood in the country

Stories such as that of Sahar S.* are so important and encouraging. They show the strength of women in the face of the most hostile life conditions! When she was 14, Sahar S. was forced to marry an older man and had two children with him. As she could no longer cope with the everyday violence inflicted upon her by her husband and his family, she self-immolated. She survived but had severe burns and had to undergo several operations. In hospital she came into contact with a counsellor from Medica Afghanistan. With the counsellor’s support and her own strength, Sahar S. completed a training course, and today she is teaching other women how to read and write at Medica Afghanistan. A lawyer is also now helping her to regain custody of her children.

(* Name changed)

During my trip, I held an internal workshop for Medica Afghanistan on the “Cycle of violence”, which describes the phases of domestic violence. Sahar S. presented the results of the working group she was in during the seminar, and then added, crying but with a firm voice: “I experienced all of that, but today I am standing here and I’m so happy that all of you are here - all of you who help women like me!” Not one of us remained unmoved by this.

We have enough reasons to be angry about this male violence and sad about a young life being destroyed in this way. At the same time, however, there are enough reasons to see her as a courageous role model. After an extreme experience of violence, Sahar S. managed to avoid losing herself and to retain her faith in life. Her story also demonstrates the value of our work. Everything has been worthwhile, I thought, even just for this one woman, as Sahar S. told us about her first experiences with Medica Afghanistan. Today she is 21 years old. Meeting her was a great gift for me!

For our colleagues in Afghanistan it is important and encouraging to have the opportunity to meet me or other women from Cologne, in order to grasp how much support they have from many people in Germany. Again and again I hear how invigorating this continuity is: knowing we are here for them helps them to keep on working. With a long-term, resilient working relationship, the pain, despair and stress involved in this work can be expressed and shared. This is what I consider important and where I see our responsibility: to accompany traumatised women in such a way that they can develop their own perspectives and to back up our colleagues throughout the world to help them continue their difficult work.

Monika Hauser