A research by Amnesty International points to survivors of gender-based violence being abandoned following Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and their husbands are on the prowl.
Sina (name changed) would be battered by her husband almost daily. There was no way she could protest or seek comfort – her own family supported her violent husband. The only place open to her was a shelter managed and run with government funds. But, when the Taliban arrived, she and the other woman inmates and their children had to flee the shelter.
Now in hiding, Sina says, “We left with nothing by the clothes we had on our persons. We have no food. My husband is looking for me and he knows that the shelter has closed.
All essential services for women and girl survivors of domestic violence have come to a stand-still in Afghanistan since the Taliban took over the country, says the human rights NGO, Amnesty International.
Amnesty’s researchers conducted 26 interviews with survivors and service providers who spoke of the risks of violence and death they face. The Taliban has closed shelters. Worse, many of the men jailed for beating their wives were released by the Taliban and they are looking for their spouses against whom they hold a grudge.
A legal professional who specializes in gender-based violence said told Amnesty that she had been involved in the conviction of more than 3,000 perpetrators of gender-based violence in the year preceding the Taliban’s takeover.
She said: “Wherever [the Taliban] went, they freed the prisoners… Can you imagine? More than 3,000 released, in all the provinces of Afghanistan, in one month.”
Amnesty International says that survivors have also been transferred by the Taliban into the detention system, including to the Pul-e-Charkhi prison, near Kabul.
Even people staffing shelters for women escaping violent homes, prosecutors and judges who worked to deliver justice and others providing protective services are now at risk.
Afghanistan has abandoned women like Sina.
Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International Secretary General recognises this when she says, “Women and girl survivors of gender-based violence have essentially been abandoned in Afghanistan. Their network of support has been dismantled, and their places of refuge have all but disappeared.”
“To protect women and girls from further violence, the Taliban must allow and support the reopening of shelters and the restoration of other protective services for survivors, reinstate the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and ensure that service providers can work freely and without fear of retaliation.”
Instead, the Taliban has reinstated the ministry of vice and virtue, only ensuring that its name is furthermore commensurate with their beliefs – it is now called the ministry for the propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice.
The new government or its ministry charged with the propagation of virtue is not bothered about releasing wife-battering men from prisons. At best, this ministry remained a spectator to the Taliban’s rampaging foot soldiers throwing open prison doors, unmindful of the risks that convicted perpetrators pose to the women and girls they victimized. At worst, they were accomplices.
Protective services are as important as evacuating survivors and those who served them from the imminently dangerous situation they find themselves in. There are only two ways. Either donors stick to long-term funding; or evacuate the women out of Afghanistan.
Collapse of the system
Amnesty International interviewed survivors and protective service providers in the provinces of Badghis, Bamiyan, Daikundi, Herat, Kabul, Kunduz, Nangarhar, Paktika, Sar-e Pul, and Takhar. The interviews led to one conclusion: The system had collapsed.
Women and girls spoke of how, before the Taliban’s takeover, many of them accessed a nationwide network of shelters and services, including pro-bono legal representation, medical treatment, and psycho-social support.
Thousands of women would be referred by the ministry of women’s and the national human rights commission. Many would even be referred by managements of the shelters they took refuge in or from hospitals where they were undergoing treatment, and in some case, by the police.
Thousands is no exaggeration, knowing that Afghanistan has one of the highest rates of violence against women globally. Nine of every 10 Afghan women have experienced at least one form of intimate partner violence in their lifetime, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
Amnesty researchers quote a service provider from the eastern province of Nangargar who said, “[The cases] were very extreme. We had a case where a man took the nails off his wife’s fingers… [One] man took a crowbar and peeled off his wife’s skin… There was one woman who faced a lot of abuse from her family. She couldn’t even use the bathroom anymore.”
With protective services collapsing and people staffing these services left to fend for themselves, and women like Sina in hiding for and her children’s own safety, it is not surprising that the people involved are desperate.
As a shelter director, currently in hiding with some survivors said, “We don’t have a proper place. We can’t go out. We are so scared… Please bring us out of here. If not, then you can wait for us to be killed.”