Afghanistan: Women’s rights are non-negotiable

Press release
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On the eve of International Women’s Day and less than one month before presidential elections, FIDH and its member organisation in Afghanistan, Armanshahr/OPEN ASIA urge the national authorities to ensure full and direct participation of women in a free and fair election process and call on the presidential candidates to make the promotion and safeguard of women’s rights and their legal protection their priority.

Elections are an important step in the democratic transition of Afghanistan. The legitimacy of elections depends on the full, direct and independent participation of women voters. Presidential candidates must respond to women’s democratic demands and aspirations with strong commitments to prioritizing women’s rights,” declared Karim Lahidji, FIDH President.

The history of the peaceful struggle of Afghan women for the protection of their rights spans at least over a century. Even during the civil war and the dark period of Taliban rule, Afghan women persevered in their struggle for social and political rights by making timely and intelligent use of the limited public space available. With the opening of the political and social landscape after the end of the Taliban rule, further significant steps were taken. Millions of girls and women returned to school and university, women took up employment opportunities, contributed to defining the new constitution and voted in successive elections. Many were elected to Parliament and Provincial and District councils. Grassroots initiatives included actions led by the Women’s Political Participation Committee, the Afghanistan Women’s 50% Campaign and the Campaign of 5 million women voters during the last presidential elections. Most recently, seizing the electoral momentum, women’s organizations introduced the ambitious Afghanistan Women’s Charter of Demands, calling for commitments from presidential candidates.

In the face of efforts to achieve gender equality, fundamentalist movements resist, forming serious obstacles to the protection of women’s rights in Afghan society. Illustrations are abundant and alarming. They include legislation such as the adoption of the discriminatory Shiite personal status and child custody laws, a recent proposition by parliament to bar relatives from testifying against family members in domestic violence cases and a reduction of the quota for women’s representation in Provincial councils by 5%. In addition, the rejection by Parliament of the Elimination of Violence Against Women law (which remains in force by Presidential decree) and obstruction to the Family Bill are clear signs of resistance. The opaque objectives and unclear agenda of the Afghanistan government’s negotiations with the Taliban and questions over the extent which women’s rights are up for negotiation, as well as the government’s tolerance of the growing influence of religious fundamentalist schools for women, reinforce concerns for the future of women’s rights.

According to Guissou Jahangiri, Executive Director of Armanshahr/OPEN ASIA Foundation, Safeguarding women’s many achievements over the past 12 years and ensuring their full political, social and economic participation is the duty of the present and future government of Afghanistan. Peace will never be achieved by bargaining and sacrificing women’s rights. Conciliation under such conditions is not sustainable.

In tandem with women’s rights defenders in Afghanistan, Armanshahr/OPEN ASIA and FIDH launched the campaign “Unveiling Afghanistan, the Unheard Voices of Progress” in advance of the April 2014 presidential elections. This campaign gives voice to one hundred prominent and influential political, social and cultural figures in Afghanistan, struggling for a progressive society in which human rights and women’s rights are respected. “Unveiling Afghanistan” aims to increase women’s political participation in the electoral process by promoting women’s knowledge and awareness of their fundamental rights and electoral choices.

On International Women’s Day 2014, Armanshahr Foundation/OPEN ASIA and FIDH make the following recommendations to the present and future governments of Afghanistan to prioritize the protection of women’s rights:

In the political arena

  • Ensure public security and transparent and fair elections with the full and independent participation of women;
  • Refuse to compromise on women’s rights in peace negotiations with the Taliban and guarantee women’s equal and effective -not merely symbolic - participation in all stages of the peace talks, based on UN Security Council Resolution 132, 1889 and 2122 on women, peace and security;
  • Guarantee that the minimum 25% quota of seats in Parliament allocated to women will not be modified by the electoral law, and ensure that – as a minimum - the same quota is retained in Provincial and District Council elections;
  • Allocate an adequate budget for policy implementation and confer executive power on the Ministry of Women’s Affairs;
  • Appoint women to key positions in the government, the judiciary and other decision making bodies;
  • Counter the activities of extremist groups including the growing influence of fundamentalist religious schools for young men and women.

Legal protection and rights

  • Ensure the effective implementation of binding constitutional obligations and international conventions protecting women’s rights and ratified by Afghanistan, including CEDAW;
  • Ensure that gender equality is integrated in all laws without exception and abolish all discriminatory laws and provisions, in particular the Marriage Law, provisions concerning child custody rights, discriminatory provisions of the Penal and the Property Laws, the Shiite Personal Status Law and discriminatory customary laws and ratify the draft Family Law;
  • Enhance the effective implementation of the Law for Elimination of Violence Against Women throughout the country, in coordination with the Supreme Court and the Office of the Attorney General;
  • Investigate and prosecute those responsible for killings, kidnapping and violence against women;
  • Take steps to end recourse to informal parallel customary courts and to ensure that women have full and effective access to the formal justice system.

Social and economic rights

  • On the basis of explicit provisions in the Constitution, launch a national campaign to combat illiteracy and make high school education available and compulsory in all regions of Afghanistan;
  • Continue to improve women’s access to social rights, in particular health care, by implementing all directives in the National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan (NAPWA);
  • Provide women with economic opportunities such as vocational training and employment; in particular for women heads of households and ensure the respect of women’s private property ownership, right to retain the dowry (mahr) after divorce, pension and inheritance rights. Ensure the primacy of statutory law over customary laws.

"Unveiling Afghanistan, the unheard voices of progress” Campaign
For 100 days, interviews of 100 prominent political, social and cultural personalities of Afghanistan are published on international and national media in Dari, English and French in the Afghan daily 8 Sobh, Huffington Post, FIDH website and twitter as well as Armanshahr/OPEN ASIA website, twitter and facebook.

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