HAWCA is the Afghanistan partner organisation for an ambitious project to develop a comprehensive, adaptable package of care to improve the mental health of survivors of violence against women, modern slavery, and civil conflict in India, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan.

In collaboration with academic partners in the UK (University College London (UCL), King’s College London, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine), and organisational partners in Sri Lanka and India, HAWCA is helping to develop a package of care to support the mental health of women and children experiencing violence in Afghanistan. This involves mapping existing mental health services across five provinces, talking to service providers and representational groups, and working with users, their families, policy actors and faith groups to identify needs and potential solutions.

This project has the potential to bring about real changes for women and children affected by different forms of violence including violence against women, modern slavery and civil conflict. Violence against women affects 42% of women in South Asia, and modern slavery (defined as forced marriage, forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation) affects 40 million people worldwide, with the greatest burden in Asia. Conflict in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, amidst discriminatory gender norms, has exposed a majority of women to abuse, trauma and poor mental health. An individual who has experienced these forms of violence is more likely to experience mental illness, particularly depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal thinking.

Our aim with the project is to reduce the prevalence and severity of these mental health conditions. This might be through finding local strategies for delivering appropriate psychological therapies, and a range of non-clinical responses includes crisis counselling, shelter, legal and financial negotiation, social work, and community support networks.

The award is part of a £40m investment by NIHR into world class research through its Global Health Research (GHR) Programme, focusing on research with measurable benefits to patients and the public in low and middle-income countries (LMICs).

This research was commissioned by the National Institute of Health Research using Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding.
The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR): improving the health and wealth of the nation through research.
Established by the Department of Health and Social Care, the NIHR:

  •  funds high quality research to improve health
  •  trains and supports health researchers
  •  provides world-class research facilities
  •  works with the life sciences industry and charities to benefit all
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For further information, visit the NIHR website www.nihr.ac.uk

We are four sister and brothers and I am the eldest of them. When I was 10 years old my father died. My mother is an illiterate woman and she earns money for our maintenance in a very difficult way, all day long she works as cleaner and washes other peoples’ laundry.

Due to poor economic condition of our family, my mother decided to engage me to my cousin when I was only 14 years old. Unfortunately for me he is unemployed and addicted to drug. I did not agree to this arrangement but no one listen to me and after one month I had to marry him.

On the first day of our marriage he beat me for not looking at him, after that every day he uses to beat me for no reason. He also asked me for unappropriated sexual activities and when I reject his demand, he would beat me with a stick. In addition, my mother in law always interfere in our personal matters and stimulated my husband to beat me.

He forced me to go outside and find money for him even if I had to beg. One day, when he kicked me out to find money for him I went to the police station and at last I was introduced to HAWCA women protection center where a case was opened for me. I have no complain against my mother because I feel that she also had no option and could not support us all, but I want to take my divorce and punish my husband and his mother for their cruel acts.

Procedure:

Her case was registered in the HAWCA registration book and the necessary information was given to her by HAWCA defense lawyer.

Her case was introduced to general attorney. She was sent to the forensic to find out if she has been beaten. The medical tests proved that she has been victim of beating, after that her case was sent to general attorney department of elimination of violence. She got her divorce and her husband was imprisoned. She was reintegrated with her mother and she was contacted for 6 months after which she decided to marry the man of her choice.

Poor Afghan Girls

Sahar was only 10 years old when she was forced to marry an older man.

Her father agreed to "trade" her in what is known in Afghan culture as " Badal " so he could have a second wife.

Her husband stopped her from going to school, starved and beat her.

Lina has a similar story, but it stretches back much longer.

Her uncle forced her to marry her cousin when she was just ten years old. After 30 years of abuse, she managed to escape, but Afghanistan’s laws mean that she must now wait three more years to be able to divorce him.

Both Sahar, now 14, and Lina, now 43, managed to flee to the emergency women's shelter my organisation runs in Kabul and are both recovering along with nearly 200 others.

Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a woman. Women face violence and abuse in many different ways - in public life and in our homes.

After decades of being influenced by external forces - including invasions by the U.S. and Russia, which were supposed to “liberate” us - it is time that we take charge and fuel change from within, and that our government makes some major steps forward for women and girls.

One of the most fundamental changes we need is for the trading of Afghan girls under the guise of “child marriage” to be banned. The legal minimum age of marriage is currently 16 years, but this is rarely adhered to and girls as young as 12 are married off if they "look like they are old enough." Only 15 percent of our girls are educated and 60 percent are married off by age 16.

The minimum age should be increased to the international standard of 18. Anyone - including family members - who forces a girl to marry below this age should be arrested. This would make clear that girls are of equal value to boys and should not be treated as commodities.

Another issue we deal with at our shelter is that women have to wait three years to get divorced after abusive marriages. This can be highly distressing and means that women who have often been victims of violence need to put their lives on hold until the government permits them to move on.

The Afghan government also needs to make sure that women who flee violence to safe spaces should not be further victimized. Regulation 1133 of the Supreme Court of Afghanistan states that it is not a crime for a person to run away from home to escape violence to stay with a close relative, an NGO or after approaching a government entity - when no sexual activity takes place.

However, in such highly-charged situations where women flee violence, they often stay elsewhere such as in a hotel - and are punished if they do so. This is completely unfair and further victimizes women who are often in desperate situations.

Stalking is also growing in prevalence and has also yet to be defined and outlawed in Afghan law. A draft law was recently passed but it needs to be strengthened to include both definitions and punishments.

When a case is brought forward of any form of violence against women it should be continued - even when the plaintiff “drops” it. It may sound beneficial to female victims of violence to be able to drop a case, but the reality is that she is often pressurized to drop it by the culprit himself or by family members.

Instead, she should be seen as a potential victim and given adequate protection. This includes those instances when a victim does not make a formal request but when there is enough evidence to start an investigation.

Existing violence against women laws should be properly enforced, too. A woman can face huge obstacles when bringing a case against a perpetrator. Those who commit acts of violence against women are usually not punished and can find a way out. I know of several cases where judges are bribed, or are simply afraid of judging against a culprit who belongs to a powerful party.

The whole Afghan legal system needs to be comprehensively improved. Professional lawyers and judges should be hired in courts and in the judiciary. Higher priority should be given to cases of violence against women and a clause for moral crimes should be included in the existing violence against women law.

Female survivors of violence should be supported when reintegrating into their communities. They need training, job opportunities, psycho-social assistance and educational facilities.

We should have a national awareness programme on ending violence against women, aimed at students, mullahs and religious authorities in particular.

Finally, government funding of shelters like the one we run in Kabul should be increased and made sustainable. We had a crisis earlier this year when funding was stopped for a time. We cannot afford for that to happen again and for the hundreds of girls and women we help to be potentially put in harm’s way.

Afghanistan can become a safer place, but only if our government gets behind us and makes sure that women and girls like Sahar and Lina no longer have to live in fear.

Enduring decades of war - the longest in U.S. history - has certainly not liberated us. We will have to do that ourselves.  

Shafiqa Noori is Executive Director of the Humanitarian Assistance for the Women and Children of Afghanistan (HAWCA), the Afghan partner of international group Donor Direct Action.

 

 

I got married seven years ago with a person I didn’t know. It was my family decision, so I agreed. We have four children. In the first years of our relation, I was very happy and we had very enjoyable life.

After some time my husband behavior changed. He left his job and found new friends who were addicted to drugs. Soon he also started to use drugs. He was usually spending his days and nights away from home and was unaware of our problem and needs. Whenever he whenever he came home, he beat and insulted me for no reason.

Several times I tried to help him and convince him to leave his addicted friends and change his behavior which was effecting our life and children. Unfortunately he never listened to me.

We were hungry for days, we didn’t have anything at home, and sometimes neighbors were bringing us their leftover food. I was depressed and worried about our future: who and how long would help us? For how long I would have to tolerate this miserable situation?

I decided to discuss this issues with my husband’s family. When they heard about it, they just listened, they not only did not believed me but they blamed me for what was going on in my home.

I went to the elders of my own family to get help and advice. They tried their best to talk to my husband and force him to stop using drugs. But nothing worked, he didn’t changed, he continued meeting his addicting friends to buy drugs, he continued to beat me and my children, he continued to grab my money and our other belonging to sell it for drugs. Day by day our situation was getting worse. Finally he warned me that he is leaving me and getting married to another woman. This was the end of tolerance and hope, I asked him for divorce. As I asked him to divorce me, he started beating me even more and violently. Not only my soul but my body was too hurt and I was in a deep pain. I was crying day and night.

Finally one early morning when he was still asleep, I left home and went to Human Rights Commission and asked for help and protection. The HRC referred me to HAWCA WPC.

Procedure:

Her case was registered and all the necessary information were given to her by HAWCA defense lawyer.

She was sent to forensic to confirm her injury type (as she was beaten) and then the examination result was also added in her case file.  Arrest warrant was issued for her husband by district 13 police station. For the moment her husband has left their residential area and has moved to an unknown location.

The victim lived in HAWCA WPC and participated in all educational and skill training courses. She has learnt how to be strong and confident to protect her children and live a life free of violence and discrimination.

Currently she has decided to stay with her mother. The reason she decided so is that there are high chances that her husband would come to visit her and government authorities can arrest him.

We have assured her that our defense lawyer will defend the case and also if she faces any kind of risk or threat, we are here to provide all needed support and protection.

My mother and father are dead. My eldest brother is taking care of me. When I was 14 years old he wanted me to get married with an old man who was 50 years old. I told him that I do not want to marry now and specially not with an old man, but he did not listen to me.

In my absence and without my consent he got me married with that old man.

During Nikah, the woman is asked if she agrees to the marriage or not, but in my case, none came to me and no one asked me if I agree to the marriage or not.

After marriage, my brother sent me my husband’s house, I was very afraid and did not know what to do and how to start my new life, I had no plan and was not ready for this. I was there with him for 5 days but I did not let him touch me, he wanted to get close to me and so he started beating and threatening me. After five days my sister came to me and I told her that I do not want him so she went to the police station and they summoned me and my husband. After the primary investigation they introduced me to general attorney department of elimination of violence. The General attorney started its investigation, they found out that the marriage is by force and under marriage and so they arrested my husband and my brother and introduced me to HAWCA WPC.

I told them that I want to take my divorce as I was not  ready for marriage yet.

Procedure:

Her case was registered in the HAWCA registration book and the necessary information was given to her by HAWCA defense lawyer.

Because she is 14 years old and she is considered a child, in addition her marriage was by force so the whole marriage was considered null and void ab initio.

During the court procedure as she had no ID to prove her age, she was sent to the forensic to prove that she is 14 years old, after that her case was sent to general attorney department of elimination of violence.

She got her divorce and did not complain against her husband and her brother.

She left HAWCA WPC and went to her sisters’ house.

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