Kabul, 14 April 2012. A 19 year old girl in desperation setting herself on fire to escape the rumours that she was pregnant and brought shame on her family, which the hospital could confirm were only rumours. A 13-year-old girl raped by a 65 years old man and then ordered public execution by her Jirga for bringing shame to the tribe. The list of cases and examples of everyday violence against women and girls in Afghanistan is endless. But there are is hope. There are persons and organizations who are striving for change. Frozan Karimi is one of them. As the Acting Head of the Attorney General’s Office/EVAW Unit (Elimination of Violence against Women) in Herat. She is determined to make a difference. Her unit is considered to be one of the most effective ones in the country.
Frozan (pictured on the right) has as long as she can remember had a strong motivation to work for women’s rights and to combat violence against women “My first experience of violence against women came from listening to the stories my father would talk about at home. Coming ome at night from the court, where he worked as a judge, he would sometimes be sad and make comments like ‘poor woman, she’s not a criminal’”, she says. She dreamed about being a judge or a prosecutor so that when she grew up, she could help the women herself.
Afghanistan would need more women like her. There is a lot to be done. A recent report from Human Rights Watch “I Had to Run Away” (2012) addresses the imprisonment of women and girls for “moral crimes”. The report tells the stories of 58 girls and women who have been raped, sexually assaulted or who have fled forced and abusive marriages and who are now in prison convicted for having committed adultery (zina).
A previous studie by Global Rights (2008) indicates that the overall level of violence against women in Afghanistan is very high. Up to 87.2 percent of the women have experienced at least one form of physical, sexual or psychological violence or forced marriage during their lifetime. 62 percent of the women experienced multiple forms of violence. Frozan describes how working with cases of violence against women in Herat is challenging due to limited resources and many cases to handle for the small team.
Since 2009 there is a Law on the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) in Afghanistan, which defines 22 different forms of violence against women. Examples of violence are: rape, beating, forced prostitution, burning or use of chemical substance, forced marriage, forced isolation and giving away a girl or a woman to settle a dispute (baad). The EVAW law reinforces the Afghan National Police’s (ANP) duty to assist victims, protect individual’s rights and freedoms, and detect, combat and investigate crime, by explicitly obliging them to receive and register complaints of violence against women
The installment of specialized EVAW Units at the Attorney General’s Office all over Afghanistan is in an initial stage and one step to implement the legislation and to combat violence against women and the impunity of perpetrators. "To accomplish that goal the units needs special attention and more staff which is professional staff, who has got the specialized knowledge to work with cases of violence against women on issues like confidentiality, safety and how to treat the women when meeting them," says Frozan. At least, this is something that Frozan would like to see as an outcome from the roundtable discussions that EUPOL in collaboration with partner UNFPA arranged in Kabul in the beginning of April addressing the issues of facilities, staff and training so that it can lead to a change. She would also like to set up trainings in the province. EUPOL is supporting the work of the EVAW Units through material support to the offices and through training courses to be set up in the provinces. Emma Sandahl, project manager for EUPOL’s EVAW project, considers the roundtable a really good start for the work ahead: “This is one step taken to strengthen the connection between the law enforcement sector and the health sector, which in the end is all about providing better support to violated women and girls.”
But despite the challenges the EVAW Units faces, the hard work has paid off and Frozan can see lots of improvements. In Herat they have accomplished to establish a high level of trust for the EVAW Unit in the community. “Due to that more women file complaints and as a consequence there are more men in jail now for acts of violence against women than before,” says Frozan. In Afghanistan many women face prejudices and intimidation when seeking help and remain afraid or incapable of reporting crimes, due to a cultural context which regards it inappropriate for women to approach and speak directly to men and male police and also affected by the absence of access to policing services.
For a majority of women who are being abused health centers are the only point of contact to seek help, hence it is very important to close the gap between the health services and the law enforcement sector, to better support victims of violence. With the support of funds from the European Union, EUPOL is under 2012-2013 focusing on capacity building and strengthened cooperation between police and prosecutors to combat violence against women. This also includes strengthened cooperation with the health sector and NGO’s and cooperation with local and international partners in the implementation. Together with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), EUPOL is also launching an awareness campaign on violence against women for police officers and prosecutors in the field.
The cases of violence Frozan has dealt with stick to her memory and she mentions two recent cases. “The first was about a 19-year old girl who was forced to marry a man in his 40’s. The second case was a woman who was so severely beaten by her husband that they could not find one piece on her body that wasn’t black from bruises.” Both cases have been taken to court, but so far there has been no verdict. Sometimes Frozan visits the detention center where the men are held and they are joking with her, saying that all of the men in there are from the cases of EVAW Unit. When some men complaint to her for being in detention, Frozan answers them “then don’t do it”.
Asked to reflect on advantages of working in Kabul in comparison to the province Frozan says that there are different aspects and big differences: “In Kabul there is of course the existence of and closeness to a variety of facilities and facilities like the Supreme Court and easy communications, which makes the work easier. However, one advantage of working in a province like Herat is the size of the population.”
Frozan is not too optimistic about the future situation for women in Afghanistan, and she is backed up by statistics: in Afghanistan between 70-80 percent of women face forced marriages; 57 percent of girls are married before the legal age of 16, every 30 minutes an Afghan woman dies during childbirth and the average life expectancy rate for women is 43 years (UNFPA).
She is very engaged when she talks about how the current situation is for women: “There is a written law, but not enough persons to also implement the law and take action. Combating violence against women in Afghanistan also includes addressing economical violence like for example denial of property or education for women, denial of food or basic needs, discriminatory laws on inheritance and lack of access to health care.”
Frozan talks about the limitations many women faces in Afghanistan, which makes them vulnerable in the society: “How can I be optimistic when girls can’t reach higher education? For example: I knew of a girl that scored high results at tests but couldn’t reach university because she didn’t have the money for it. Men can work during the day and go to university at night, women can’t do that, they’re not allowed to go out. Women in Afghanistan are talented, they have courage and manage a lot of things, but they don’t have enough support from the families and society. The ones who reach success do it on their own”.
The link between violence and lack of economic resources and dependence is thus circular. But Frozan is not giving up, she smiles and says that she wants to be a role model and show women that “If you want to, you can do it”.