Improving justice for Afghan women spotlighted at Balkh symposium

1 Aug 2017

Improving justice for Afghan women spotlighted at Balkh symposium

MAZAR-E SHARIF - The importance of Afghan women’s access to formal justice systems, and their presence as employees working in those systems, were topics debated at a recent UN-backed symposium held in Afghanistan’s northern province of Balkh.

The symposium, organized by the Mazar regional office of UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), was set up not only to raise awareness about the legal challenges women in northern Afghanistan face but also to highlight efforts made by the Afghan government and women’s rights activists to address those challenges.

During the event, a diverse group of government and judicial officials, along with representatives from women’s rights groups, highlighted the current mechanisms in place to support women at all levels of Afghan society. The lively discussion ranged from the impact of awareness-raising programmes to the capacity of law enforcement in protecting women from violence.

“A woman victim can never fully disclose to a male lawyer or judge as much as she could to a female, so we need at least 50 per cent women as judges, prosecutors and lawyers,” said Lida Stanekzai, a defence lawyer who spoke during the event.

The group reached consensus about insecurity ranking as the single most prominent factor in discouraging women seeking gainful employment as lawyers or prosecutors in the province, despite Balkh ranking as among the most secure provinces in the Afghanistan.

“The government needs to create more opportunities for female lawyers,” said Nargis Hafedzada, a juvenile court judge. “They need to be given hope so they can believe that the justice sector needs them and that the government will keep them secure.”

In closing, Fawzia Hamidi, a special prosecutor for cases of violence against women in Balkh, suggested bimonthly meetings to evaluate progress on the role and presence of women in the justice sector.

Earlier this year, on 8 March, the UN in Afghanistan celebrated International Women’s Day, which in 2017 was marked globally under the theme of “Women in the Changing World of Work.” On that day, the UN made a universal call for women’s participation in all professions and highlighted their essential contributions in all spheres of work.

The Afghan government has pledged to increase the presence of women in government institutions to 30 per cent by the year 2020. Currently, women’s participation countrywide is far below this target. The UN family in Afghanistan is working diligently to help reverse inequality and support Afghan women and men expand opportunities for women.

“Women’s economic empowerment is a crucial precondition to effectively address poverty, inequality and violence against women,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, in a statement for Women’s Day. “While much progress has been made, many women continue to face economic and social barriers to meaningful employment as well discrimination in the workplace and in other areas of life.”

For real change, said the UN envoy, this essential agenda must be a priority. “Empowering Afghan women will allow them to share their voice and exert influence on matters of national concern, including in development, politics and most importantly peace,” he said.

The UN in Afghanistan supports the government’s stated efforts to strengthen the implementation of gender commitments in compliance with Afghanistan’s international obligations, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the recently adopted Global Agenda 2030, which includes the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

UNAMA is mandated to support the Afghan Government and the people of Afghanistan as a political mission that provides 'good offices' among other key services. 'Good offices' are diplomatic steps UN takes publicly and in private, drawing on its independence, impartiality and integrity, to prevent international disputes from arising, escalating or spreading.

UNAMA also promotes coherent development support by the international community; assists the process of peace and reconciliation; monitors and promotes human rights and the protection of civilians in armed conflict; promotes good governance; and encourages regional cooperation.