Over 5,000 people across several provinces in Afghanistan have learned about violence against women and citizens’ legal rights through an awareness campaign supported by IDLO.
The campaign was implemented in late 2016 and early 2017 by the Public Legal Awareness Unit of the Afghan Ministry of Justice and by two non-governmental organizations operating Women Protection Centers, Women for Afghan Women and Voice of Women Organization.
It was designed and carried out with support from IDLO, within the broader framework of public legal awareness activities being conducted as part of the Supporting Access to Justice in Afghanistan program.
By signing a symbolic pledge banner, students affirmed their commitment to say ‘no’ to violence against women
Live drama performances, discussion seminars and local radio shows have been carried out across Afghanistan to raise awareness about violence against women and citizens’ legal rights, reaching more than 5,000 people across nine Afghan provinces.
The campaign set out to educate participants on all forms of gender based violence, including domestic violence, forced and underage marriage, rape, forced prostitution, beating, harassment and humiliation.
Participants also learned about the causes of violence and received information on accessing services provided by the institutions working on eliminating violence against women.
Violence against women is a pervasive issue in Afghanistan, and survivors’ access to justice remains limited
Afghanistan has made progress on protecting and promoting women’s rights since the fall of the Taliban. A Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women came into force in 2009 and specialized prosecution units were established starting from 2010.
But violence against women remains a pervasive issue in the country. According to a recent survey carried out by the Asia Foundation, 22% of Afghans – an all-time high – consider domestic violence one of the biggest problems facing Afghan women.
Survivors’ access to justice remains limited, and a negligible number of perpetrators are ever prosecuted and convicted.
Public awareness of citizens’ rights is an important part of tackling violence against women
Fostering awareness among the general public of gender based violence, women’s rights and mechanisms to access justice is crucial.
“Violence against women matters,” said Laila Amiri, a high school teacher participating in a seminar in Kabul. “It matters because it is a crime against humanity and a fracture in our society. If we really want to fix it, then we need to understand the causes and ways to prevent it.”
Local ownership helped ensure the sustainability and success of the campaign
To ensure the success and sustainability of the campaign in traditional male-dominated communities, where topics such as domestic violence are often considered taboo, the campaign promoted local ownership and empowerment.
It engaged high school and university teachers as well as local community leaders, providing them with the knowledge and skills to spread the message further within their own communities and identify ways to take action and provoke change.
High school teachers were empowered to raise awareness locally within their schools
“Deep down, I knew I had to stand against violence, but I also knew that I lacked concrete information. Through these seminars, I have gained so much important knowledge,” explained the Kabul high school teacher, Ms. Amiri.
“Now I am equipped like an armed soldier to argue against it, from a legal and from a religious perspective. I would take on any opportunity to speak out – whether it is in my school, in public or in the media.”
Many Afghans turn to local community leaders to resolve conflicts
Local community leaders, mullahs and tribal elders play an important role in Afghanistan’s traditional society and enjoy high levels of trust from their communities. Rather than going through the formal court system, communities often call upon these leaders to mediate local disputes.
As they operate outside of the formal justice sector, community leaders must be familiar with constitutional and religious legal frameworks to ensure their decisions are fair and consider the rights of all parties – particularly vulnerable members of society.
It is vital that local community leaders have the knowledge to reach fair decisions
“For the last 25 years, I have been mediating in my community using traditional practices or religious guidance,” commented a local community leader who took part in a series of seminars.
“I would never have imagined that any of those mediations were wrong, until I participated in these six seminars. I learned a lot about law, rights and religion. God, bless you.”
In some Afghan provinces, the security of participants was a significant consideration
The campaign was rolled out across nine Afghan provinces – Badakhshan, Balkh, Bamyan, Herat, Jowzjan, Kabul, Kunduz,
Nangarhar and Samangan – including some that posed significant security challenges.
One provincial capital chose not to run activities within its universities due to the risk of infiltration by insurgents, and chose to focus on small seminars with teachers instead.
Against a backdrop of fighting and insurgency threats in Kunduz, the campaign resonated strongly
In Kunduz, where a battle for control between Afghan government forces and Taliban insurgents took place in October 2016, performances were scheduled only after the security of participants could be guaranteed.
“The campaign brought new hope to us students, after we were completely shattered by the fall of Kunduz to the Taliban,” commented a university student in Kunduz. “We are inspired by this performance about violence against women here on stage. They encourage us to fight for the rights of the most oppressed members of society, women. Not with guns, but with logic and reason,” he said.
Through watching live drama performances, audiences can engage on an emotional level
Drama is a powerful medium to capture people’s attention in Afghanistan, where live performances are rare and education tends to be imparted through lecture-style passive learning.
Particularly on an emotive subject such as violence against women, performances helped to evoke the empathy and feelings necessary to mobilize change. Empathizing with the subjects on stage can help the audience understand complex issues and provoke changes in attitude and behavior.
Plays were written by local actors in order to reflect local experiences
Key to the success of the campaign was ensuring that the messages would resonate with people’s experiences.
The plays were therefore scripted by local actors, addressing the campaign’s overarching themes and messages but based on real local stories and practices. The final plays were vetted and approved by the provincial staff of the Ministry of Justice’s Public Legal Awareness Unit.
Radio quiz shows broke with local tradition by getting girl students to address topics such as sexual abuse
Furthermore, in 30-minute weekly radio quiz shows, two high school students competed against each other on questions related to violence against women.
The quiz competition format was popular, and local schools have gone on to organize their own contests on legal matters, social issues and science subjects.
“That was unique and encouraging,” commented the chief editor of the Pamir radio station in Badakhshan province. “I was stunned by the participation of girls in the program, breaking taboos of Afghan traditional society, and talking about sexual abuse in a radio program.”
" I was stunned by the participation of the girls in the program, breaking taboos of Afghan traditional society, and talking about sexual abuse in a radio program.
Photos credit: Afghanistan Ministry of Justice, Public Legal Awareness Unit