Donor Countries Must Put Women’s Rights in Aghanistan on the Agenda

Right & Democracy’s Mission Report

OTTAWA –  Dec. 17, 2002 – Rights & Democracy is urging participants at the donor’s Conference for Afghanistan which opens today in Oslo, to press the Karzai government to put the issue of human rights, especially women’s human rights, on the agenda to ensure a genuine reconstruction of the country.

“Almost a year after the donor meeting held in Tokyo, we realize that the situation of women and girls has changed very little in Afghanistan. Women still have no access to education, to health or to the workforce. They have little freedom of movement and are victims of harassment. Even the Vice and Virtue Commission which played a key role in repressing women, has been reinstated six months ago,” said the President of Rights & Democracy, Jean-Louis Roy, as he released an open letter to the donor countries and the report of a fact-finding mission by Rights & Democracy to Kabul last fall.

With the International Support Group to Afghanistan (Medica Mundial – Germany, All Afghan Women Union Kabul, Afghan Women Lawyers Professional Association and Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan), Mr. Roy urged donor countries to adopt a series of measures to improve humanitarian assistance, peacekeeping, the rights of women (to health, education, job training and legal protection) and reminded the international community of its obligations vis-?-vis the interim government.

One of the recommendations aims to ban the practice of badla which consists of giving young girls or children to pay off debts or as compensation for murder. Not only do rules allow for humans to be traded, but women who are imprisoned in Afghanistan jails have committed no crime: they are doing time for their fathers, husbands or brothers. These practices, said Mr. Roy, must be outlawed and severely punished.

“Reconstruction cannot be just physical,” he added.

While in Kabul, Rights & Democracy looked into the question of humanitarian aid, and found donor countries who pledged millions in Tokyo last year had not lived up to their promises. The mission also found that the “militarization of aid delivery” has had serious consequences for beneficiaries and for the future of the country.

While soldiers, charged with delivering humanitarian aid can improve aid delivery, they also gather intelligence, a practice which creates fear among the population, says Rights & Democracy’s report. “This affects the relations of aid workers with the local population and can lead to inconsistent quality of assistance. The lack of coordination among the varied actors bypasses the local capacities which, in turn can lead to political manipulation,” it warns, adding: “The new security agenda and the militarization of aid contradict the basic principles of humanitarian assistance: impartiality and neutrality.”

Rights & Democracy recommends that member States of the United Nations should ensure that an accountability mechanism be set-up to monitor all aspects of the provision of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan.

Rights & Democracy also recommends:

  • that Afghan women take part in the decision-making process regarding the distribution of humanitarian aid and participate in its distribution, and that priority be given to the public provision of food, water, sanitation, health and energy in reconstruction policies;
  • reforming the Afghan judicial system from a gender perspective to ensure that violations against women are taken into account and to ensure their full equality and participation in public and political life;
  • that women be allowed to undergo emergency operations without having to wait for authorisation from a male family member;
  • that the focus of international donors’ funding of women’s rights employment initiatives should be expanded to non-traditional public and private sector activities;
  • and, that the issue of women’s rights remain a priority for donor countries for the long term.