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Patriarchy Takes Aim at Afghani Safe Havens for Women

While Afghanistan has long been known to be a highly patriarchal society, many non-governmental groups have been running women’s shelters there for quite some time.

There are currently about 40 shelters and aid offices in the country that are funded almost entirely on international donations, allowing them to fight Afghanistan’s patriarchal culture while still respecting their national laws.

These shelters assist women who have been abused – either physically, emotionally, or a combination of the two – by their husbands, brothers, fathers, and other male relatives. Many often come in with broken bones or with their lips, tongues, or noses sliced off.

One group that operates shelters in the country is Women for Afghan Women, which currently runs 11 shelters in the area. These shelters provide girls and women with safe, confidential homes while waiting for legal cases to conclude. The shelters also provide counseling, meals, and vocational training for the women who stay there.  

Another organization that assists women in Afghanistan is Humanitarian Assistance for the Women and Children of Afghanistan (HAWCA), which runs 26 shelters and aid sites for over 5,000 women a year. It is the country’s largest network of shelters.

These types of shelters are absolute necessities for women who have left abusive households and have nowhere else to turn.

“There are men who mistreat and abuse girls and women who have no place to live,” said one 19-year-old Afghan woman. She escaped her family after her father tried to sell her as a child bride and now lives in a shelter in Kabul, where she has learned to read, write, and sew.

“I don’t have anywhere and there are thousands of other women like me, who have no one and no place to go,” added a 16-year-old Afghan girl. She was disowned by her family after divorcing her abusive husband. She also lives in a shelter in Kabul.

But it seems that many other Afghans do not see the benefits of these shelters. Many government officials, largely made up of Muslim religious leaders, dislike the shelters because they see the shelters as a form of foreign meddling in the rare area of the nation where they have little control.

These grievances have inspired the government to create a proposal that will essentially transfer control of the shelters to them. This proposal would force donors to pay into a fund at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs instead of donating their money directly to the organization of their choice. The government will then give the money to shelter operators at their own discretion, meaning the women’s shelters will be at the mercy of their patriarchal government.

This is a problem for multiple reasons.     

First, there is the matter of finances. With the government in charge of distributing the donated money, there is a chance that they will give more money to shelters willing to abide by their rules and provide less funding to those that oppose them. This potential prioritization is an issue because it is often the anti-patriarchal shelters that provide the most help to women.

These new terms might discourage foreign donors from providing money out of fear of inadvertently helping perpetuate Afghanistan’s patriarchal government. This could significantly impact shelters that rely on foreign donors to assist women in the country.

Lastly, if the government is in control of these shelters, women will lose the privilege of receiving confidential protection. I doubt it will take long before the government tells abusive male relatives or husbands where these women are staying so they can bring them home and put them back in dangerous situations.

Fortunately, the proposal has yet to be passed, so there is still hope. This hope falls on the shoulders of Western embassies, which have previously shut down the government’s attempts to limit women’s shelters. We must hope that the Western presence will be enough to not only save the shelters, but also to continue educating the Afghan population about why women need to be respected and protected.

Featured Image by DVIDSHUB on Flickr

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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