Afghanistan's EVAW Law
Quick Facts: Violence Against Women in Afghanistan
- 87% of women who participated in the study had experienced at least one form of physical, sexual, or psychological violence, or forced marriage
- 62% experienced multiple forms of violence
- 17% reported sexual violence, with 11% had experiencing rape
- 52% reported physical violence with 39% saying they had been hit by their husbands
- 74% experienced psychological abuse
- 59% were in forced marriages
Source: Living With Violence: National Report on Domestic Violence in Afghanistan, Global Rights (2008)
Afghanistan’s EVAW Law
The Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) Law was first drafted in 2008 by Afghan civil society organizations, women leaders and activists, and with the support of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), then enacted by presidential decree in August 2009. It is meant to criminalize acts of violence against women including rape, domestic violence, child marriage, forced marriage, the exchange of women in blood feuds and other disputes (a practice known as ‘baad’ prevalent in Afghanistan), among other forms of violent acts against women. In total, the law identifies 22 specific forms of violence against women (VAW). It mandates that punishments are administered to those found guilty of committing such acts. It also specifies the obligations of seven different ministries and other public institutions with regards to enforcing the law, including the Attorney General’s Office, the police, the judiciary, and the newly created High Commission for the Prevention of VAW. The EVAW Law is considered landmark legislation towards better protecting the rights of women in Afghanistan.
“ The most important legal step taken so far by the Government to criminalize acts of violence against women and bring perpetrators to justice”
- UNAMA (2011)
EVAW is intended to meet the priority areas of action identified in Afghan Government policy, such as the National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan 2008-2018 (NAPWA), the gender equality commitments outlined in the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS), and the provision for non-discrimination on the basis of gender found in Article 22 of the Constitution of Afghanistan (2004). It also serves to meet obligations under international law to which Afghanistan is a signatory, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Duties and Responsibilities of the EVAW Commission
An important tool for monitoring enforcement of the EVAW Law was the Law’s provision for the creation of a national commission. The High Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women was established and is chaired by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. As of 2013, provincial commissions have been established in most of the country’s 34 provinces.
Article 16 of the EVAW Law
1. The EVAW commission shall have the following duties and responsibilities:
1. Study and evaluate causes of violence in the country and under taking appropriate supportive measures in this regard.
2. Drafting preach and public awareness programs for the purpose of prohibiting commission of violence.
3. Coordinating the activities of the relevant governmental and non governmental agencies on combating violence.
4. Collecting statistics and figures of violence related crimes.
5. Providing suggestions regarding amendments to be made to this law.
6. Suggesting regulations and adopting relevant rules/ procedures for the purpose of better implementation of this law.
7. Requiring information on violence cases from the Police, Attorney and the Court.
8. Preparing annual report of their activity and submitting it to the Council of Ministers.
9. Other duties given by the government.
2. The activity of the commission will be regularized by a separate procedure, which will be approved by the commission.
The overall challenge of the commission is to ensure that the EVAW law is being enforced. As vastly varying local interpretations of Sharia (Islamic law) and tribal law, which often victimize women, continue to persist in many communities and even in the court system, there is an urgent need for an efficient monitoring mechanism. This involves a system that tracks implementation, ensures consistent collection of data, and measures progress on enforcement, allowing the government to determine whether the EVAW law is having its intended impact. It would also inform the numerous stakeholders and civil society organizations that are advocating greater enforcement of this law, whether and where further reform is needed to attain the objectives of EVAW.
Current Status of Implementation
Although this Law was enacted in 2009, awareness of its specific provisions remains low, even among its duty-bearers. Data collected by the United Nations Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) during 2010-2011 show that the Afghan Government’s implementation, including by police and prosecutors, was limited and that much greater efforts were needed to improve enforcement. Cases were rarely filed and the prosecution of perpetrators of VAW under the Penal Code led mostly to acquittals. It is apparent that customary law and tribal justice continues to be relied upon and that theGovernment has moved too slowly in better protecting women from violence. Nevertheless, UNAMA and the OHCHR found that there was starting to be some adoption of the EVAW Law, if uneven, and there had been prosecutionsand even convictions in several provinces.
Above: These three teenage girls reside in a women’s shelter. Mumtaz,
pictured on the right, was disfigured when an unwanted suitor attacked
her with acid. Photo: Frud Behzan, Radio Free Europe.
In 10 years, the Afghan police have come a long way. We work with them on a daily basis and we can see the changes. In the beginning, the police were just trying to put women in jail. They thought running away from home, fleeing violence, was a crime. Now they are very cooperative. We get calls at 2am, if there is a case. They don’t keep women who are victims of violence at the police station anymore. They are sent to the shelter. A lot of advocacy work has gone into educating the police about the laws. The police these days are not perfect, but they’re more gender sensitized and less judgmental.
– Manizha Naderi, Executive Director, Women for Afghan Women, which runs several women’s shelters in Afghanistan (April 12, 2012), France 24
Since the law’s enactment, 28 provinces have established branches of the Commission for the Prevention of Violence against Women to support implementation, as mandated by the EVAW Law; however, only 16 of those commissions are currently functioning and meeting regularly. Almost all provincial commissions are still struggling to fulfill their mandate and require more support from provincial governors, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and other governmental bodies.
Strengthening Services for VAW Survivors
The EVAW Law calls for services for women who have faced violence. Women’s shelters have opened in Afghanistan over the past decade, and play an often life-saving role by offering safe refuge. The Afghan Government approved the Regulation on Women’s Protection Centers in 2011. The regulation recognizes the critical service that shelters provide and sets standards for their operation designed to safeguard residents’ rights and dignity. However, organizations operating shelters had to work hard to get this recognition from the Government, after resisting a government take-over in 2011 of independent shelters. Seizure of the shelters would have included new rules that would have worked against the interests of victims, such as requiring women to “plead their cases before an admissions panel of government employees and undergo medically dubious ‘examinations’ to prove they are not guilty of adultery or prostitution,” as described by one analyst (Moore, UN Dispatch, 2011). The shelters’ clash with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs over the proposed regulations demonstrated the ongoing need to sensitize the Government to the needs of VAW victims.
Resistance to the EVAW Law
The EVAW Law was initially passed by presidential decree; however, a female MP abruptly pushed it through the parliament in May 2013, at which time it came to the attention of a small number of conservative MPs who expressed their opposition to the law as “un-Islamic” based on its criminalizing of child marriage, and other provisions. This in turn prompted a demonstration by conservative males in Kabul, followed by counter demonstrations by Afghan women and their supporters in Kabul and in cities around the world, as Afghan activists launched petitions and used social media to rally support for the law. As of June 2013, the law was sent to a parliamentary committee for further review.
“ with a divisive parliament and an uncertain political future, the best solution may be to work towards the enforcement of the existing law…at the end of the day, the law is just as valid today as it was yesterday” – Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch, Aljazeera (May 30, 2013)
Above: Afghan-Canadian women held a demonstration
in support of the EVAW Law in Vancouver in June 2013.
Above: Women in front of the Afghan parliament demand that
the EVAW Law not be changed, Kabul, May 2013