Kapisa province, Afghanistan – In November, IDLO supported the Office of the Attorney General to inaugurate its fifth Violence Against Women (VAW) unit in Afghanistan. The newest unit, located in Kapisa province, joins a network of VAW units which includes the headquarters in Kabul and three other recently opened units in the provinces of Herat, Balkh and Parwan.
The units are staffed by specialized prosecutors who target crimes against women under the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law and the clients are victims of assault, rape, harassment, forced and underage marriage or deprivation of property and inheritance.
Nilofar, one of the first clients of the new unit in Balkh province, was just ten years old when her family forced her to marry a 60 year-old man who abused her and eventually threw her out of his home. Nilofar, now 25 years old, was reported as a runaway, arrested and eventually imprisoned. Since running away is a “non offense” under Afghan law, the head prosecutor of the new VAW unit was quick to act on her behalf. This led the appellate judge to suspend Nilofar’s sentence and release her. Nilofar is just one of the many women across Afghanistan who, because of the VAW units, are getting the justice they deserve.
In fact, two other brave women seeking assistance recently went to a radio station in Balkh province after hearing a Public Service Announcement (PSA) about the new VAW unit. Radio spots are running daily in the provinces where the new units are located, announcing the openings and providing contact information for women who may need legal help. One of the women was crying and covered in bruises. She said she had been forced to marry an older man who beat her regularly. The manager of the radio station took her to the new VAW unit.
The other woman, who had been traded as a bride to settle a dispute, said “I came here despite many difficulties because I heard some messages [on the radio] that said if a woman is under torture and violation then there is the VAW unit to support and protect her from injustice.” The radio station staff also helped this woman reach a unit. As a result of this positive experience, the station manager decided to continue the broadcasts beyond the paid schedule in order to reach out to even more women in the area.
The VAW project, now supported by the US Department of State INL Bureau, inaugurated the new Balkh unit in September. The unit in Parwan was inaugurated at the end of October and finally the Kapisa unit was opened in November. The original unit in Kabul, which opened in March 2010 with support from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, received more than 300 cases from 15 different provinces in its first year.
Today over 600 cases have been referred to the unit. Aisha, the 18 year-old girl whose marred face was featured on Time magazine in August of 2010, was one of the first victims referred to the VAW Unit in Kabul. She had run away from home to escape her abusive in-laws. A Taliban commander sentenced her to have her ears and nose cut off. Aisha eventually made her way to a shelter which led her to the VAW unit.
To support other cases like Aisha’s, a second unit was inaugurated in Herat in the spring of 2011, with support from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, under the leadership of Maria Bashir, Afghanistan’s first female chief prosecutor.
Through the US Department of State INL program, IDLO will assist the Office of the Attorney General in opening three additional VAW units in the next twelve months. These will be located in the provinces of Nangarhar, Kunduz and Paktia. The VAW units will play a key role in supporting IDLO’s second Strategic Objective “Legal Empowerment”.