x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Afghan plan to take over women’s shelters attacked

Rights groups say move will undo progress made on women's rights by placing victims of abuse at mercy of state lacking resources and subject to influence of misogynist powerbrokers.

KABUL // Afghanistan yesterday defended a government plan to take control of shelters for abused women, saying many women were tricked into leaving home and warning that the programmes were "rife with corruption".

Rights groups, however, said that the plan will undo important progress made on women's rights by placing victims of abuse at the mercy of a state lacking resources and often subject to the influence of misogynist powerbrokers.

It comes after accusations in the Afghan media that such shelters, run by foreign-funded non-governmental organisations, encourage immorality, prostitution and drug abuse.

Afghanistan's caretaker minister for women's affairs, Dr Husn Banu Ghazanfar, said the government had found numerous "violations" in the running of shelters.

She suggested tbat they had too much money and that it was unclear where some of it had gone. Though conceding that many women faced problems at home, Ms Ghazanfar said some were "deceived" into leaving.

"Some of them haven't had any problems in their homes, and later they apologise to their families and to us," she said.

Ms Ghazanfar said she personally had no evidence of prostitution or drug abuse, but she said such rumours had to be stopped.

"We won't let anyone do whatever they want under the name of a safe house," Ms Ghazanfar told a news conference. "We are able to defend the rights of our daughters and women."

The issue reflects suspicion in some segments of Afghanistan's society about the influence of Westerners who poured into the country after 2001.

The new regulation, which requires cabinet approval, would see victims of domestic abuse subjected to compulsory examination, barred from leaving without ministry approval and registered with the police.

They can be evicted if they are "accepted" back by relatives, or upon marriage, which for many Afghan women is forced. Some run to shelters to escape unwanted husbands.

Women suspected or accused of crimes would not be admitted. But running away from home is considered a "moral crime" in Afghanistan, like adultery, that women can be prosecuted for. Some women jailed for adultery say they were raped.

Human Rights Watch said the plan reflected the growing strength of conservatives within Hamid Karzai's government and was an overture to Taliban insurgents waging an escalating war against Nato and Afghan forces.

Some of the 14 shelters in Afghanistan faced closure if taken over by a government lacking the money and resources to run them, the group said.

An HRW Afghanistan researcher, Rachel Reid, said in a statement on Sunday: "The government is full of misogynist warlords and wide open to corruption.

"A government shelter is far more likely to cave in to pressure from families and tribes to hand back the victims, which will put women's lives at risk."