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Afghanistan: Women will be silent no more

    March 07, 2019

    Afghan women must have a say in the future of their country, Amnesty International said today, as the human rights organization unveiled a mural in Kabul celebrating their tremendous achievements.

    As part of Amnesty International’s BRAVE campaign to promote the rights of human rights defenders, the mural depicts Afghan women protesting for their rights, demanding equality, and raising their voices for justice.

    This is the second mural that Amnesty International has unveiled in Kabul as part of its BRAVE, or “Shuja” (in Dari) campaign. The first mural was consecrated to the memory of journalists who have been killed doing their jobs, depicting the famous Afghan photographer Shah Marai of Agence France Presse holding a camera.

    “Afghan women are famous for their resolve and we are celebrating that this Women’s Day. Despite more than 17 years of conflict, they have made remarkable strides. They are lawyers, doctors, judges, teachers, engineers, athletes, activists, politicians, journalists, bureaucrats, run their own businesses and are in the ranks of the military and police,” said Samira Hamidi, South Asia campaigner at Amnesty International.

    “These hard-won advances must not be rolled back at any cost. Women have been at the forefront of the calls for peace in Afghanistan. But there can be no peace process worthy of the name that excludes women or compromises on their rights. Afghan women cannot be ignored or silenced.”

    Important human rights gains

    Under Taliban rule, women’s rights were violated with impunity. Women were not allowed to freely exercise their human rights, including the rights to freedom of movement, to education, and to work.

    Now, there is a dedicated Ministry of Women’s Affairs, with departments throughout the country at provincial levels. Afghanistan also has an Independent Human Rights Commission chaired by a renowned woman human rights defender, Sima Samar. And women constitute 27 per cent each of parliament and the civil service.

    In 2009, Afghanistan passed the law on Elimination of Violence Against Women, after a hard-fought struggle led by women human rights defenders. The law, which fell into disuse after parts of it were absorbed into Afghanistan’s revised Penal Code, was reaffirmed by President Ashraf Ghani in March 2018.

    Enduring challenges

    These impressive gains notwithstanding, Afghan women continue to endure great challenges when it comes to their human rights.

    In 2018, Afghanistan suffered the highest number of civilian casualties since the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) began recording figures. There were 3,804 deaths and 7,189 people were injured. One in ten civilian casualties were women.

    Women continue to face other forms of violence and abuse. As a UNAMA report in 2018 found, there are dismayingly few prosecutions of violent crimes against women. More than half of the 237 cases monitored by UNAMA between 2015 and 2017 were instead referred for ‘mediation’ in violation of the Elimination of Violence Against Women law.

    The UNAMA report also found that in 280 murders of women, there were convictions in a mere 50 cases. Most of the cases were not even heard by the courts.

    In December 2018, members of Afghanistan’s women’s football team came forward to speak out against the sexual assault and harassment they suffered. At the time, Hafizullah Rahimi, the head of Afghanistan's Olympic committee, acknowledged: "Sexual abuse does exist, not only within the Football Federation but in other sports federations as well. We have to fight it.” An investigation is currently underway.

    Since peace talks between the USA and the Taliban have begun, there has been extremely limited participation of women and no serious discussion on women’s rights.

    “It is crucial that Afghanistan builds on the limited but important gains made on women’s rights so that we are able to confront the many challenges that remain. The international community must stand with Afghan women at this crucial time,” said Samira Hamidi.

    For more information please contact: Lucy Scholey, Amnesty International Canada (English): + 613-744-7667 ext. 236; lscholey@amnesty.ca 

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