Human Rights Day: rights and freedoms in Afghanistan

Estelle Bloom | Dec 12, 2015
Afghanistan 1
This Human Rights Day, we look at the remarkable work of women human rights defenders in Afghanistan, on their mission to challenge human rights abuses and change attitudes for good.


Human Rights Day

December 10th marks Human Rights Day, on which the adoption of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights is commemorated. This year’s theme is ‘Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always.’, which focuses on the realisation of rights and freedoms, including freedom of speech and freedom from fear.


Rights and freedoms In Afghanistan

Nowhere will these ideals resonate more than in Afghanistan, where a Global Rights report estimated that nearly 90% of women experience physical, sexual or psychological violence or forced marriage in their lifetime. More often than not, this abuse occurs within their own family.

Furthermore, the fate of victims is often firmly sealed. There are very few options for women outside of marriage. Refuge shelters for victims of violence are few and far between, meaning many women simply can’t access them. And for those that can, many are soon forced back home due to lack of alternatives. Reporting, prosecution and conviction rates therefore remain low, condemning far too many women and girls to a life of violence and fear.

In Afghanistan, a country marred by turmoil and instability, other human rights are routinely denied, such as the right to education, meaning many young girls are forced in to marriage instead of staying on at school. And for Afghan women, speaking up for women’s rights is no mean feat. Women activists have been targeted, persecuted and even killed for defending their rights.

It is no wonder, then, that Afghanistan was named in a 2011 poll by Thomson Reuters Foundation as the most dangerous place in the world for women.


A shining light

It is within this disheartening context that the work of our Afghan partner to resolutely defend and promote women’s rights, becomes all the more inspiring.

Humanitarian Assistance for the Women and Children of Afghanistan (HAWCA) has empowered 80 women from Nangarhar Province to become human rights defenders – working with their communities to combat violence against women and girls, prevent forced marriage and ensure girls can go to school.

The women receive training on legal and practical matters, such as the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law, the rights of women as defined by Islam and the legal and referral system. This equips them to reach out to their communities, working with women and girls and their families to resolve human rights abuses. This could take the form of mediation, whereby a perpetrator is educated – repeatedly if necessary – on the victim’s rights and the legal consequences of their actions. Or it could be helping women file a police report or access legal services.


Change is happening

As time goes on, HAWCA reports that more and more women are finding the courage to come forward themselves, seeking help to overcome their situation. And attitudes are changing, as community sessions carried out by the human rights defenders spread awareness of women’s rights and the law.

In 2014 the defenders’ caseload included 70 cases of family violence, 71 of forced, exchange or underage marriage and 4 of rape. In addition, 24 young girls were helped back to school, including 14-year-old Zarmina who wants to become a doctor. Her dream almost ended when her unemployed father tried to marry her to an older man for money. When they became aware of the case, the women human rights defenders visited her family and talked to her parents. At first, her father was very resistant, but the women human rights defenders persisted. They visited again and explained that forced marriage is a crime under Sharia and national law. They also promised to help the parents find work. With this, Zarmina’s father changed his mind and promised not to marry off his daughter and let her continue her education instead.

The women human rights defenders persevere in the face of extremely challenging circumstances, including dangers they themselves face. As our partner HAWCA said: “Working in an area where security is a big issue and women are suppressed is a great challenge. Yet HAWCA has been able to create groups of strong human rights defenders and achieve the overall goal of the project.”

That is surely something to celebrate on Human Rights Day.

Post by Estelle Bloom.


Leave a comment
  1. Susan | Dec 22, 2015
    Well done!
  2. Gill Maher | Dec 22, 2015

    Thankyou Womankind for the article on human rights for women in Afganistan.  I was very impressed by the courage

    and persistence of these Afgan women.  They will be in my Prayers.

  3. Emily Catherine khoury | Dec 22, 2015

    Thank you Estelle

    For the information. Why do i care? I am a female also and one half of the worlds population. Equality for us all and safety.

  4. CT | Dec 19, 2015

    A well written and thought provoking article. Lots of info given in an interesting and informative way.



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