Engaged at four, married at 17, Tabasum Bahar* fought hard to avoid her pre-arranged marriage, but found herself kidnapped and drugged for refusing. Abuse continued after marriage and the birth of her daughter, including her husband throwing boiling water over her. She sought refuge from a Women’s Protection Centre (WPC) and now contributes to helping other women survivors of violence. Despite her suffering, Bahar says, “I feel so proud of my work. So proud of being part of a movement that helps women like me who have survived violence.”
Afghanistan has been widely acknowledged as among the most challenging places in the world to be a woman. Afghanistan ranked 152 out of 155 countries in the most recent Gender Inequality Index,1 and women continue to suffer oppression and abuse. An estimated 87 per cent of Afghan women have experienced at least one form of physical, sexual or psychological violence or forced marriage.2
In 2018, Australia commenced a four-year, $22.5 million program to help reduce violence against women (VAW) in Afghanistan. This is the second phase of a VAW program, which commenced in 2013 and has made notable progress. The program now reaches 32 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
Delivered by five partners (UN Women, UNFPA, The Asia Foundation, The Afghan Womens Network and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission), the program works to improve services for women affected by violence, increase access to justice, change community attitudes, and advocate for the protection of women’s rights.
In 2017-18, Australian aid provided direct support to 1,670 women through WPCs and Family Guidance Centres (FGCs). These institutions constitute a critical access point for protection and referral to further services such as healthcare and legal aid for women who have experienced abuse. Women’s access to increased psychosocial support and emotional care for staff, collecting forensic evidence, as well as transition and exit strategies for WPC residents are focus areas for the second phase of the program. Women affected by violence will also have increased access to justice in target provinces.
Afghan Nation Police will also receive increased training on standard operating procedures for response to gender-based violence (GVB) cases. Evidence suggests that the standardization of processing GBV cases in the police sector has contributed to increased access to justice, where cases are being properly registered and referred instead of being sent back to the community or family.