Corruption is a brutal enemy of Afghan women

by Sima Samar, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission | Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission
Friday, 3 May 2013 07:45 GMT

Sima Samar, chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, receives the Right Livelihood Prize from founder Jacob von Uexkull in the Swedish Parliament, Stockholm December 7, 2012. REUTERS/Erik Martensson/Scanpix

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In Afghanistan, there is an incorrect perception among many men that they can do as they please and buy enough influence to keep women in cages at home

Diwa was asked to pay a bribe or marry the judge to get her case adjudicated. Shakila was killed and her case closed without charges being brought against the perpetrators because of corruption. Jamila has remained in a shelter for abused women for almost two years because of corruption in the justice system. These three cases illustrate the huge impact that corruption in the judiciary has on women in Afghanistan.

Rampant corruption not only holds the country back, it also has a severely negative impact on individuals' lives and wellbeing, in particular on women. Though women to some degree today enjoy basic rights and are much better positioned than before, it is no secret that they are still suffering from structural, political and social discrimination and from corruption.

Why is corruption such an impediment and a destructive force with such a negative impact on women’s rights in Afghanistan? How is corruption linked to the increasing level of violence against women? Why should the government be held to account for the failure to provide public services, in particular to women? These are the hard questions – but probably the right ones – to ask in the context of women’s rights in Afghanistan. In order to answer these questions, it is important to understand the context and draw on our daily experiences of these issues.

First, corruption has a huge impact on a woman’s full enjoyment of her rights. In the last six months, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) found that of the 2,400 cases of violence against women referred to the justice system, only 400 were processed and adjudicated. The rest were unsettled, withdrawn or simply closed. The main reasons for this are corruption and the improper use of influence in the judicial system. In a country where there are no courts in one third of the districts and where there are no female lawyers or judges in any district, helping women to obtain justice is already a challenging job. This leaves women who are seeking justice at the mercy of the persecutor, judge and police officers.

Secondly, in 2012 the AIHRC received more than 4,200 cases of violence against women. The bulk of these cases were first brought to the legal system, but because of corruption women could not get justice or have their cases heard. We at the AIHRC often hear stories of women being forced to go back to their abusive family members, or women who have to withdraw their complaints under pressure from authorities. Many accept the outcome and go home; others are so agitated and hurt that they want to exhaust all possible avenues of justice and therefore they come to the AIHRC to seek protection.

There is an incorrect perception among many men that they can do as they please and buy sufficient influence to corner women in cages at home.

Thirdly, even though the government has taken some positive steps towards eliminating violence against women, including the Elimination of Violence Against Women law, it has failed to fight corruption effectively. Findings from the public hearing and submissions to the AIHRC national inquiry into rape and honour killings in Afghanistan indicate that because of corruption, cases of rape and honour killings are not effectively followed up and investigated. So the government is to blame for its failure to establish mechanisms that hold its officials and criminal suspects to account.

Corruption has also affected the social and economic rights of women. The fifth report of the AIHRC on economic and social rights showed there had been an improvement in the access of women and especially girls to education and healthcare, but this still remained far below the level needed to meet their needs. Access to higher standards of living, including housing and sanitation, remained more elusive for women than men. Mismanagement and corruption is to blame for the inefficiency and poor quality of basic social services.

To help women enjoy their basic rights in Afghanistan and effectively eliminate violence against women, we need to fight corruption more effectively.

In fighting corruption, it is imperative to exert and demonstrate a strong political will. Experience shows us that despite a good legal framework, including accession to the UN Convention against Corruption, and the establishment of institutions such as the High Office of Oversight and the Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee, corruption remains rampant and endemic. Further, in the fight against corruption we need to build a strong and independent judiciary and rule of law.

It is also very important to mention that building the capacity of the Afghan government, judiciary and parliament to fight corruption is of paramount importance. To eradicate corruption in Afghanistan, ample time, resources and political will are going to be needed. This should not be used as an excuse for delaying or implementing the policies and strategies to fight corruption. It is key for the Afghan government and the international community to honour their commitments under the mutual accountability framework, which would lead Afghanistan out of the misery of corruption.

Corruption is an enemy of all Afghans, but it is a brutal and sworn enemy of women.