Washington, DC- As reports indicate that violence against women in Afghanistan is increasing, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), a member of the National Security Working Group and a Co-Chair of the Weapons of Mass Destruction and Terrorism Caucus, sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging the State Department to dedicate its resources to establish additional domestic violence shelters in Afghanistan. Currently, the State Department is only funding six shelters, leaving many abused women without safe haven. The shelters provide safety and vocation training to help victims of domestic violence restart their lives. As some members of the Afghan parliament continue to favor reducing protections for women there are still not enough women in the Afghan police to staff Family Response Units that also serve women who are victims of domestic violence.
“With support from the international community, Afghan women have made remarkable strides over the past decade. However, they still face serious threats to their safety and security,” Senator Casey said. “Women’s security is a key indicator of overall security and is critical to our long-term security interests in the region. Increasing the number of domestic violence shelters and training more women as members of the Afghan National Police’s Family Response Units will help more women receive the help they need. This should be done now, so that women know they will have these services during the security transition and beyond.”
The full text of Senator Casey’s letter to Secretary Kerry can be seen below:
Dear Secretary Kerry:
Afghan women have made remarkable strides over the past decade, with the support of the international community. However, in the past several months, human rights groups have documented a slow but persistent effort to chip away at the gains women have made in security, legal rights, education, and health. I write to ask that the State Department increase funding for programs, like women’s shelters and legal services, which help support Afghan women in this transition period and beyond.
The recent elections saw unprecedented levels of female voter participation. Across the country, Afghan women now hold positions in Parliament, run major companies, and are pursuing higher education. I commend the invaluable work that the State Department and USAID have already done in Afghanistan over the last decade to bolster the rule of law and support women’s rights and security. However, these gains must be solidified.
A December 2013 United Nations report indicated that while violent crimes against Afghan women have increased in the last year, the rate of prosecutions and convictions for these crimes has remained low. According to the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs report released in January 2014, of 4,505 cases of violence against women in 2013, which include issues such as forced marriage, less than 10 percent were resolved through the legal process. Many reports indicate a rise in self-immolation, a desperate and devastating last resort for women in abusive situations. The lower house of the Afghan Parliament has also proposed provisions that would significantly weaken the country’s landmark Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law, including a provision that would effectively deny women protection from domestic violence and forced or child marriage. Thankfully, President Karzai has rejected these measures for the time being, but Parliament could again attempt such a reversal.
First, we must continue to impress the importance of gender issues on interlocutors in Afghan law enforcement. Family Response Units (FRUs) within the Afghan National Police offer assistance to survivors of domestic abuse. However, according to the International Crisis Group, there are not enough female police officers to staff all provincial Family Response Units. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees found that “in the absence of Family Response Units or visible women police officers, women victims almost never approach police stations willingly, fearing they will be arrested, their reputations stained or worse.” I urge you to ask the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) to work with the Afghan Ministry of Interior (MoI) to support the staffing of Family Response Units with qualified policewomen and female legal advisors.
Second, shelters play a central role in protecting the rights of women. Shelters not only provide women with a safe haven from domestic abuse, but also with legal counsel and vocational training. These facilities give Afghan women the support they need to recover from abuse and succeed in society. However, the International Crisis Group’s October 2013 “Women and Conflict in Afghanistan” Report indicated some NGOs that run the shelters are already concerned they could be targeted for attack once the coalition troop drawdown is complete.
I understand that the State Department, through the INL Bureau, currently provides funding that supports six shelters, which aid more than 2,000 women and children per year. I also understand that INL supports two Children’s Support Centers that provide housing, education and other services to children of incarcerated women. While these services have already helped many, there are still more vulnerable women that need access to such life-saving centers. INL should devote more of its considerable resources to expanding these critical services during the security transition, so that Afghan women know they have somewhere to turn.
It is crucial to put these measures in place now so that as the troop presence continues to drawdown, these key protections for women become firmly entrenched. I look forward to working with you on this important issue and thank you for your leadership.
Robert P. Casey, Jr.
United States Senator