Gender-based violence and the inadequate representation of women in civic and political life continue to be key problems in Afghanistan. This helpdesk research report explores initiatives aimed at countering gender-based violence and empowering women’s voices. Information on the role of the legal system in Afghanistan – particularly sharia and customary law, is also highlighted throughout.
There have been a number of interventions by government, NGOs, women’s groups and donors, aimed at countering and mitigating the effects of gender-based violence, including government policy, legal instruments, accountability mechanisms, awareness-raising campaigns and training, research, outreach to religious leaders, support services, and data gathering and monitoring.
Interventions aimed at increasing women’s voice and participation have enjoyed varying degrees of success. Elections, for example, are considered to have been fairly effective in terms of promoting women’s participation both as voters and as candidates. However, the presence of women in political institutions has not translated into real influence over government policy or a strong representation of women’s issues.
Much of the literature stresses that women’s rights will never be properly fulfilled in the absence of a uniform legal system in Afghanistan. Although sharia law is not described as the applicable law in the Constitution of Afghanistan, in practice, legal practitioners often refer to the sharia (in its variable interpretations) when faced with a legal question, particularly concerning matters of family law. Customary law, meanwhile, is considered to have the most impact on the lives of women and girls, as the vast majority of cases seem to be resolved by resorting to tribal customs. Various efforts have been made by women activists to distinguish tribal customs from sharia Islamic laws, including outreach to religious scholars and conferences.