More shelters needed for women and girls

Kabul, March 2013. "I have to go to Kabul immediately, nobody must know”, 14-year old Nadia asks the driver to take her with him in his car. Nadia is running away to escape marrying an older man her father has chosen for her. The result of her escape is another nightmare: the driver rapes her and Nadia has to escape once again after he locks her up for two weeks in a house where 12 men take advantage of her. Luckily, Nadia reaches a shelter in Kabul with help of the police she managed to contact. The need for shelters for women and girls in Afghanistan is acute. Violence against women and girls, including domestic violence, sexual harassment, and rape, is epidemic. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission recorded 4,010 cases of violence against women from 21 March to 21 October 2012 throughout Afghanistan compared to 2,299 cases it recorded for the entire solar year in 2011. Still incidents of violence against women remain largely under-reported due to cultural restraints, social norms and taboos, customary and religious beliefs.

Figures of earlier reports state that 70 to 80 percent of women in Afghanistan suffer from some kind of violence. Forced and child marriage are still widespread and socially accepted. Many women and girls are prosecuted for "running away from home" when they flee abuse, even though there is no such crime under Afghan law.

The violence is worsened by the absence of places for women to turn for help when their safety and lives are threatened. Nadia was fortunate to even find a place in the Kabul shelter. It is one of only 14 women shelters around the country. Fewer than half of the 34 provinces in Afghanistan have shelters. It means that in the whole of Afghanistan, only 250 women and children can find shelter from abuse and violence. Although the number of shelters has increased over the years, it is still a small drop in the ocean

Right now, beside Nadia, 15 women and children live in Palwasha’s shelter in Kabul. The Chief of Nadia’s Kabul-shelter, Palwasha Sabori is concerned about the new governmental involvement with the shelters which states that it has been decided that the

Ministry of Women affairs will now be responsible for the shelters. “We will lose our independence, but we will have to wait and see. I know some people in the government say that running a shelter is against Afghan Culture.” 

Palwasha Sabori is a courageous woman as she gets threats on a daily basis but doesn’t want to give up her work in the shelter to help women like Nadia.

The young woman now feels safe and secure and wants to become a teacher, but she can have little hope for such a future. “Everything that has happened made me mentally weak. I was in great danger and I would have been dead had I not found a place here in the shelter.” The legal advisors of the shelter have started negotiations for Nadia’s return to her family in Paktia province. So far – after three years - no success, so Nadia will stay in the shelter as there are no alternative places in Afghanistan where women can live on their own.

The story of Naqibullah from Takhar (11)

Besides women and girls, the shelter also takes in boys that flee from home. Naqibullah from Takhar is one of them. He has been in the Kabul-shelter for one year. “When I was one year old, my father died and my mother married again, leaving me and my brothers with my grandmother. When I was ten, my grandmother threw me out of the house saying she didn’t want to feed me anymore and it was time to find my own life. On my way to Kabul where I thought I could make a living, I ran into a group of bisexual and homosexuals. I thought they were nice but they raped me and made me to take part in dance parties. After a while I managed to escape and went to the police who brought me to the shelter. I would like to go to one of the orphanages, since I am too young to stay here. The government should punish all those criminals for what they did to me.”