How Women Lawyers Are Fighting Gender Discrimination in Afghanistan’s Judicial System
Three years ago, Maliha was arrested for allegedly indulging in prostitution after the forces found her sitting with a man alone in a park who was not her relative. She was planning her future with this man in Herat when the police officers barged in.
Maliha was accused of maintaining an illicit relationship, which in the eyes of Islamic law is a criminal act.
At the police station, her companion called his family, bribed the police and disassociated himself from her. Upon hearing this, her family disowned her and her father threatened to kill her if she went near her partner.
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However, she was convicted of prostitution and spent three years in prison. She saw how women were physically and sexually abused by the wardens and there were many like her who were convicted for a crime they did not commit. “We were branded as cheap and filthy women. Some nights I heard girls shouting…the prison officers were taking them out and sexually abusing them. I was so scared that I hardly ever bathed as it could attract attention toward me,” she told Reuters.
Maliha herself was abused when she was asked to go to a room, saying that she was meeting with a lawyer. However, he tried to rape her, but she endured severe injuries after resisting him.
A UN report read- “After the Taliban’s rise to power, women and girls were systematically discriminated against and marginalised, and their human rights were violated. This resulted in the deteriorating economic and social conditions of women and girls in all areas of the country, in particular in areas under Taliban control. Women and girls continued to be severely restricted in their access to education, health care facilities and employment.”
Reuters reports that 8 out of 10 women in Afghanistan face sexual abuse but very few of these cases are reported as there are not many women lawyers to represent them and others face threats for representing women who are branded as ‘cheap’ and ‘filthy.’
The Afghan judicial system is guided by patriarchy and the shaped by the Sharia Law that inhibits court procedures for women like Maliha. The women lawyers who represent women in court are often abused and the judge does not let the proceedings to be completed, even though they have all the right evidence and papers. They help women flee from domestic violence and forced marriage.
A report by The International Development Law Organization (IDLO) elicited reasons for a lower ration of women lawyers in the judicial system like bias against women in the legal profession, unequal access to educational opportunities and practical legal training and lack of social and cultural norms to support women legal professionals. Their families face threats and so do they for their job.
The low representation of women in the justice sector is an obstacle to the formulation of an appropriate government response to crimes against women, and contributes to women’s lack of access to justice.
A woman’s lawyer, Mahdis Doost, who represented Maliha, stepped in for support and told Reuters, “When I took Maliha’s case, she had been held in prison for nearly three years without a single appearance in court and no lawyer. I provided evidence that she was arrested in a public place and the crime (sex with a man) didn’t happen and there were no witnesses for that. The judge would not cooperate. That is why it took eight months for me to release Maliha.”
For women like Maliha, women lawyers are their only hope as they cannot find any job or get an education. Their status of being a convict restricts their free movement in the society with a constant threat to their life by the male members of their family. Doost has promised to send her to Kabul and get a job there. But till then she is staying with her widowed aunt, who herself is unsure if she can protect her.
Picture Credit: Indian Express
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Jagriti is an intern with SheThePeople.TV