17 September 2013 – The head of the United Nations agency dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women has condemned the “intimidation and targeted killings” of Afghan women government officials and is calling for justice.
“Recent cases of targeted killings point to the urgent need to guarantee women's and girls' rights as the Government of Afghanistan prepares for a full takeover from international forces and moves towards provincial and parliamentary elections,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), added in a statement issued late Monday.
“The empowerment of women and realization of their rights are fundamental to the reconstruction of Afghanistan so that women and men can take responsibility for the future development of their country,” the UN official continued.
Afghanistan is passing through a critical moment of its history. The country is slated to hold an election on 5 April next year to choose its new leader, replacing President Hamid Karzai, marking a transfer of power from one elected government to another for the first time in its history. The following year, Afghanistan will hold elections for its National Assembly.
The political transition coincides with security transition. In June, the Afghan security forces, for the first time since 2001, assumed full responsibility of securing their country from their international allies, who are ending their combat mission by the end of 2014. Simultaneously, the country is engaged in peace and reconciliation efforts with the main armed opposition group, the Taliban.
The UN Women statement comes in the wake of the death of a senior female police officer in the southern province of Helmand. The victim, 38-year-old Sub-Inspector Negar, died on Monday of bullet wounds from an insurgent attack that took place on Sunday. She had assumed her duties in July when her predecessor, Islam Bibi, was shot by unknown gunmen.
In recent weeks and months, Afghanistan has witnessed several cases of intimidation, abduction and targeted killings of women government officials and public figures, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka noted in her statement.
Earlier this month, Sushmita Banerjee, a writer and activist from India married to an Afghan businessman, was killed outside her home in the southern-eastern province of Paktika. In August, Friba Kakar, a woman parliamentarian was kidnapped and freed several weeks later in exchange for detained militants, according to media reports. Last year, two consecutive heads of the Department of Women's Affairs in eastern Laghman province were killed. In 2008, gunmen in the southern province of Kandahar killed Lieutenant-Colonel Malalai Kakar, the country's most prominent policewoman and head of Kandahar's department of crimes against women.
Violence against women in Afghanistan is pervasive and increasing, according to UN Women, with more than 4,000 cases of violence against women and girls reported by 33 provinces to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in 2010-2012.
“Afghan women's rights to safety and security have to be ensured, and the survivors of violence supported and perpetrators brought to justice,” said Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka. “UN Women calls upon the Afghan Government to fast-track the investigation and prosecution of perpetrators in targeted killing cases.”
In her statement, the UN Women chief also touched upon Afghanistan’s law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW), the enactment of which the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) considers to be a milestone for the country in terms of articulating the protection and promotion of women’s rights.
The law criminalizes numerous forms of violence, including child marriage, forced marriage, the selling and buying of women for the purpose or under the pretext of marriage, the traditional practice of ba’ad which requires the giving away of a woman or a girl to settle a dispute, forced self-immolation and 17 other acts of violence including rape and physical abuse, while also specifying punishment for the perpetrators.
However, according to a 2012 UNAMA report – Still a Long Way to Go: Implementation of the Law on the Elimination of Violence against Women in Afghanistan – although prosecutors and courts were increasingly applying the EVAW law in a growing number of reported incidents of violence against women, the overall use of the law remains low, indicating there is still much work to be done before women and girls in Afghanistan are fully protected from violence. UNAMA is working with authorities to strengthen the law’s implementation.
“Progress in implementing the EVAW law contributes to deterring harmful practices and protecting women from violence in their daily lives,” the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, Jan Kubiš, said in a press statement in May.
Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka stated that it was essential that the Afghan Government and the international community stand by their commitments to improve access to justice for all, in particular women, by ensuring the Constitution and other fundamental laws are enforced, in addition to the EVAW Law being implemented.
“It is also essential to support Afghan women's participation in important national institutions and processes, including the upcoming elections,” she added. “It is only with women's participation that Afghanistan stands a strong chance of achieving sustainable peace and democracy.”