Afghan women’s long and hard struggle for the right to divorce


Afghan women talk with a Taliban fighter while they hold placards during a demonstration demanding better rights for women in front of the former Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Kabul [File: Bulent Kilic/AFP]


Bano, 32, in northern Afghanistan finally mustered the guts to petition for divorce last year after years of violence from her husband.
“For four years, he beat me every day and raped me every night,” she told Al Jazeera, requesting that her name be changed because she is in hiding from her abuser. “If I resisted, he would beat me more.”
“He would humiliate and insult me because I could not get pregnant,” she said. “When the doctor told us that he was the one who needed fertility treatments, he came home and kicked me between the legs, blaming me for being barren.”

Before the Taliban takeover last year, Afghanistan had more than 300 female judges [File: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP Photo]

In August 2021, just before Bano’s case was set for a court hearing in the province of Takhar, the government fell apart and the Taliban took back control.
“The judges were gone, the lawyers were gone, and with the help of the Taliban, my husband forced me to return to his house, threatening to kill my family if I didn’t,” she said.
The Taliban overthrew the previous legal system after seizing power, established their own judges, and imposed their own interpretation of Islamic law.
“There are no female lawyers operating any more, and none of the female judges has been allowed back to work,” said Marzia, a female judge before the Taliban takeover. She is also in hiding.

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Taliban prejudice

More than 300 female judges presided over courts in Afghanistan that dealt with everything from women’s rights to criminal and terrorism-related crimes. Since then, hundreds of judges have fled to other nations, and at least 70 female judges are currently in hiding and unable to resume their jobs.
“They tell us it is because they believe we [female lawyers and judges] are incompetent and do not have enough knowledge of Islamic law to work in this field,” Marzia said.
When Hizbullah Ibrahimi, the chief of the Taliban Supreme Court’s research and inspection directorate, disregarded the need for female justices during a news conference in September, the Taliban accepted this stance.
“In the previous system, female judges decided cases based on specific laws and bills and did not have enough knowledge about jurisprudence and Shariah principles,” he said. “… We have not felt their need until now, and we have not understood the need for women judges to return.”
Marzia charged the Taliban with discriminating against women and denying them access to their Islamic rights, which included the right to divorce.
“Without women in the judiciary, female victims cannot seek formal help and relief from the courts,” she said. “They don’t have access to their basic rights such as divorce. It is a big loss for women’s rights but also human rights as a whole. A significant population of the country has been cut off from accessing legal support.”
Divorce and family violence cases have been heard in the past year, according to Abdul Hameed Jahadyar, spokesman for the justice ministry.
He claimed that 341 divorce cases “were settled” in Kabul alone. He did not specify the quantity of genuine divorces.
“Any woman who wants to get a divorce can hire a male lawyer, and their case will be dealt with,” Jahadyar said. “In divorce cases, we first try to make peace between the parties and reconcile them.”

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Large gender gap

According to Kevin Schumacher, deputy executive director of Women For Afghan Women (WAW), a non-profit organization based in the United States that works to end violence against women and offers psycho-social and family counseling, the absence of women in the Afghan judiciary has created a significant gap in who has access to the justice system in Afghanistan.
Before the Taliban took control, WAW also ran shelters for women and children fleeing abuse and offered legal assistance to families. However, since then, the organization has been forced to shut down 12 family guidance centers and 16 shelters. The Taliban seized the facilities on the grounds that they served as brothels and encouraged immoral behavior.
Schumacher said that simply wasn’t true. “We were providing safe spaces along with counselling, mediation, family guidance and legal support,” he said.

Seeking a divorce in Afghanistan was always a challenge, legal experts say [File: Hussein Malla/AP Photo]

“The forced closure of our domestic violence shelters left hundreds of our existing female clients in legal and social limbo,” he said. “These state-mandated shot-downs also brought thousands of ongoing family mediation and counseling services to an abrupt end.”
Many of the shelter’s guests were left with no choice but to return to their families or reenter society without any social support system and without any legal counsel to help them fight their cases.
Schumacher and Marzia claimed that although the situation for Afghan women was not perfect before to the Taliban takeover, it has subsequently gotten worse.
“The Taliban government wants to adhere to the Islamic rules, but they haven’t codified these laws,” Schumacher said. “As a result, no one knows for sure how to go about seeking or implementing justice. With a lack of judicial procedure, there’s discoordination, which is most affecting women’s access to justice.”

Stigma

Marzia said seeking a divorce in Afghanistan has always been a challenge for women.
“There is stigma towards the women, lack of awareness of their rights and also a general lack of compassion among police and judicial officials, but despite that, there were some protections in the form of institutions and mechanisms that women could appeal to,” said Marzia, who heard many divorce cases during her career as a judge.
“Those few reliefs are also gone,” she said, adding that she knew of cases over the past year in which Taliban judges denied divorces to women because they believed women do not have that right.
“These women were forced to go back to their abusers who would hurt them even more as revenge for going to the courts,” she said.
Bano said she had a similar experience when she approached the Taliban courts recently after enduring more violence from her husband.
“About two months ago, he came home under the influence of opium and slapped me several times,” she said on the phone. “When I screamed, he went to the kitchen, heated a knife and burned my breasts with it. He then locked me in the bedroom and left. I was in a lot of pain, and the neighbours heard my wails and broke me out and took me to the clinic.
“Two weeks later, when my wounds had yet to heal, he brought a wild dog home. He then tied me to the ground, and let the dog claw my whole body as he laughed at me, saying, ‘Are you going to sue me now?’ My cheeks were torn and my eyes were swollen.”
Bano writhed in agony all through that night and begged her husband to allow her visit the doctor the following morning. She seized the chance to flee when he gave his consent. To get to her brother’s house in a nearby province, she boarded a bus.
“When they saw my condition, they were shocked,” she said. “My mother fell to the ground.”
On the advice of an imam, they approached the local Taliban court.
“I went to the Taliban judge to show my mutilated face and body,” Bano said. “We thought that perhaps after witnessing the signs of my husband’s cruelty, they might offer me protection. Instead, a Taliban member called me a b**ch and cursed me for showing my face.”
“When we told them that we had applied for divorce with the previous courts, they beat my brother and me with the bottom of their guns for filing a case in the ‘infidel’s court’,” she said.
“When they saw my condition, they were shocked,” she said. “My mother fell to the ground.”
On the advice of an imam, they approached the local Taliban court.
“I went to the Taliban judge to show my mutilated face and body,” Bano said. “We thought that perhaps after witnessing the signs of my husband’s cruelty, they might offer me protection. Instead, a Taliban member called me a b**ch and cursed me for showing my face.”
“When we told them that we had applied for divorce with the previous courts, they beat my brother and me with the bottom of their guns for filing a case in the ‘infidel’s court’,” she said.
They informed her that there is no such thing as a divorce in our court. “The judge ruled that since you are his wife, your spouse is free to treat you anyway he pleases. You don’t have the right to a divorce even if he kills you,’ she argued.
She and her brother were able to leave the province with the help of the imam, and they have been in hiding out of fear for their lives ever since the Taliban threatened to kidnap her and give her to her husband, according to Bano.
“With the brief experience I had dealing with the previous courts, the situation was so much easier for women like me, to get a female lawyer, approach the courts with women judges and get a divorce, which is my Islamic right,” Bano said. “But with the Taliban in power, life is hell for women once again.”

REFERENCES:

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/10/20/afghan-women-long-and-hard-struggle-for-right-divorce


by: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter
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