Implementation of Afghanistan’s EVAW Decree – UNAMA reports ‘deteriorating status’.

UNAMA’s 2013 Report on the Implementation of Afghanistan’s EVAW Decree: Reflections and More Actions

More than enacting commitments and standards, effective law-making is about ensuring that laws are implemented in a manner that meets the purposes for which thy were adopted.  This is what the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is trying to do with its annual analysis of the implementation of the decree on the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) in Afghanistan.  Such effort is a step in the right direction and deserves commendation and support.  More importantly, it has to be sustained. This means that the responsibility and capacity to undertake such analysis has to be institutionalized into the function of an appropriate government entity – a high level authoritative body, with a mandate to oversee the implementation of the law and has the power to hold all implementing entities accountable.

The findings of the 2013 UNAMA report on the implementation of the EVAW decree are only among the many indications of the fast-deteriorating status of women in Afghanistan. Once and for all, let it be recognized that the past 12 years were among the better years for Afghan women, given that the national peace and reconstruction agenda paid attention to women’s advancement in all aspects of life. For example, women were represented in strategic policy dialogues; a ministry dedicated to women’s well-being was established; equality before the law was enshrined in the Constitution; at least 25 percent of Parliamentary seats were secured for women; a ten-year action plan for women was adopted; women’s focal points were established in nearly all ministries; religious worships in mosques have been made accessible to women; girls and women were able to study, access services, hold public positions and participate in public life; the issue of gender-based violence was embraced as a public policy concern; and the decree on EVAW was adopted.  These may not be sufficient, but they constitute very substantial gains that are foundational to long-term advancements on the status of Afghan women.

The main point of concern, however, is how to prevent these gains from going down the drain, given the imminent drawdown of international support to Afghanistan and the growing influence of fundamentalists in society and national decision making.   UNAMA’s disclosure of the negligible utilization of EVAW decree to prosecute VAW offenders bespeaks of law enforcers’ inadequate commitment to justice, low regard for the well-being and rights of the survivors, and lack of interest to eliminate VAW.  The unspoken bond between VAW offenders and law enforcers prevail in the guise of preserving harmony, even at the expense of denying justice and entrapping survivors to a lifetime of ever-escalating dehumanization and violence.  That women must endure violence for the sake of harmony is a fundamentalist tenet that has no space under the reign of democracy. Needless to say, it is the responsibility of the government to use everything within its power to stop all forms of gender based violence.  

The fact that some senior police officers are themselves embroiled in sexual harassment and rape incidents under the condoning noses of their superiors does not augur well with generating public faith on the police establishment.  A primary point of intervention, therefore, is the police. The Ministry of Interior needs to weed out its scalawags and continue to raise the professionalism and competence of its frontline staff in dealing with VAW survivors.   The MOI should also address weaknesses in its case handling procedures. For example, mediation should never be taken as an option unless the offenders submit to mandatory EVAW counseling which eradicates the roots of their violent behaviors toward women and girls.

The most remarkable aspect of UNAMA’s annual analysis is the set of recommendations addressed to concerned government and international entities to improve the implementation of the EVAW decree.  The recommendations are substantively robust because they deal with the strategic and procedural obstacles to VAW case management. Yet, among the 40 recommendations raised by UNAMA, only 4 were completed, 12 were partially implemented, 9 could not be assessed due to lack of data, and 15 were never implemented at all. Even recommendations that are not difficult to implement, such as inviting “civil society, including representatives of women’s rights NGOs, shelter managers and international partners, to attend High Commission meetings as observers, to report specific issues, and to actively support the Commission’s work” was not done by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Commission on EVAW, the entities responsible for its implementation. Likewise, the fact that nine of the recommendations could not be assessed due to lack of data bespeaks of a weak oversight system to monitor its implementation.  The government obviously needs to work harder, and in a more organized way.

UNAMA’s analysis considers the 28 per cent increase in VAW reporting as a positive trend. Indeed it is. Nevertheless, this positive trend could be easily reversed unless the consistent failure to bring justice to survivors is corrected. The extraordinary magnitude of VAW in the country calls for extraordinary competence and political will to implement the EVAW decree. There is a need to step up the building of capacities within MOI and other actors in the justice system. But it is even more important to focus on preventive measures.

The implementation of EVAW decree will never flourish unless the social and cultural contexts that sustain and reproduce female-directed violence are also dealt with. Government should actively bring society into the framework of EVAW decree implementation. It should promote community interventions that: (a) inform potential offenders about the EVAW law, (b) empower community leaders and local police to intervene before and during the acts of violence, (c) support family heads and male members in securing women and girls from becoming VAW victims, and (d) make local councils capable and accountable for the reduction of VAW in their respective jurisdictions. Local leaders must be equipped with counseling skills and authority to compel survivors and offenders to learn non-violent ways of settling discord. Financial incentives for communities that are able to substantially reduce VAW incidents may be considered. In the immediate future, the government should also endeavor to adapt an emergency response mechanism, similar to the 911 system of the United States, especially in the light of the expected deterioration of human rights situation in the country after the departure of NATO in late 2014.

Yes, the implementation of the EVAW decree is still a long way to go and the road continues to be thorny. But significant grounds have been covered and turning back is not an option. The identification of a high-level authoritative oversight mechanism to monitor implementation and hold concerned agencies accountable, the productive engagement of local leaders through community-based interventions, and the adaptation of an emergency response system are only among the many measures that could be tried to improve the implementation of Afghanistan’s EVAW decree.  Afghan women will continue to count on the United Nations to continue holding the Afghan government accountable for the performance of its obligations to women.  True, the implementation of the EVAW decree is still a long way to go, but distance and time are immaterial when moving forward is the only option.