Empowering Women in Afghanistan: Building a Better Justice System

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Women in Afghanistan have two main options for pursuing a legal complaint against their husbands: the government’s legal system or a local tribal council. The Women's Affairs Department in Badakshan, Afghanistan released a statement estimating that 80% of cases are decided in the tribal council setting because there are huge social ramifications for making the “wrong” choice. The government is more likely to side with a woman who has been beaten by her husband but women are often railroaded into pursuing legal action through a shura or jirga, hearings conducted by tribal elders. Estimates show that 20% of tribal rulings blatantly violated the rights of Afghani women in order to preserve family relations. Some positive changes have been made by tribal councils, however, like a 2010 tribal decision in south Khost to ban ba’ad, a practice where a young girl is traded to resolve to resolve a family dispute.

Unfortunately, choosing to proceed through the government’s legal system might be just as dangerous for women in Afghanistan. Widespread bribery in the Afghani justice system means that men can (and have) bribed officials to return their wives to the family home. Aside from the intense community backlash that women face when they pursue action through the legal system, there is a strong sense of distrust in the justice system. Educating local tribal councils and communities about the potential value of the justice system- should they choose to engage it genuinely- can increase the number of families who utilize the legal system.

In 2009, the Afghani government passed the Elimination of Violence Against Women Act (EVAW), which contains provisions that ban the following: child marriage, forced or coerced marriage, buying and selling women, ba'ad, rape, and domestic violence. Research in Afghanistan shows that decisions based on EVAW are far more likely to provide justice for the victim. Only 4% of legal cases between March 2010-2011 were based on the provisions of EVAW. Judges and members of the Afghani legal system have to be trained to ground their decisions in statutory law in order to decrease the number of cases that return women to the homes of their abusers.

USAID recently pledged $300 million towards building women's rights in Afghanistan, and this new program, called "Women in Transition" may prove to have powerful ramifications for the way that the justice system evaluates cases of abuse. In combination with Afghani organizations like Women for Women, education can be prioritized for legal officials and for tribal elders. If those making decisions about the welfare of women are well versed in the statutes designed to protect them, it is more likely that just decisions will be handed down.

About the author


I'm a Criminal Justice major at Gonzaga University. I'm originally from Austin, Texas and love watching films and blogging about issues that are important to me, such as education and women's empowerment.

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