As rates of domestic violence in Afghanistan escalate, women’s ability to seek justice against their attackers has been dealt a major blow. Both branches of the country’s parliament have approved a measure that will prohibit women from speaking out against abusers, if it is signed by President Hamid Karzai.
The law in question — the Forbiddance of Questioning an Individual as a Witness — was first introduced by the Wolesi Jirga, Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament, and would prevent women from testifying against family members. In Afghanistan, most instances of violence against women occur domestically, but Article 26 of the proposed law stipulates that any relatives of accused persons would be prohibited from acting as witnesses.
Women’s rights and human rights advocates agree that the legislation is a mechanism to minimize women’s agency; prior to drafting the law, the Wolesi Jirga
Indeed, in a country replete with honor killings, forced marriages, and sexual exploitation, the Forbiddance of Questioning an Individual as a Witness would effectively put women in grave danger and strip them of their right to seek justice.
Violence against women, and domestic violence in particular, is a large scale problem in Afghanistan. For example, a report released by Global Rights in 2006 concluded that 85 percent of women in 4,700 households were victims of “physical, sexual, or psychological violence, or forced marriage” in the home. Nevertheless, impunity in domestic violence cases is, already, a major problem in Afghanistan’s criminal justice system. Identified as one of several factors explaining an increasing trend of domestic violence, including drug abuse and unemployment, EVAW was enforced in less than 20 percent of domestic violence claims between October 2012 and September 2013.
On February 17, President Karzai rejected the bill, and called for amendments to the draft. A spokesperson claimed that “[the] law will not bar any relative or any family member to testify against each other or another member of their family.”