EVAW requires men's positive engagement

25 November 2013

by Carron Mann - Policy Manager Women for Women International UK

On International Day for the Eradication of Violence Against Women, Carron demonstrates men's role

Last week, the news was full of reports of stalled talks between the US and Afghanistan over the call from Afghanistan for the US to apologise for past mistakes and a real sticking point seemed to be over US troops being able to enter Afghan homes on night raids. According to the BBC, “Night raids are particularly offensive because they are perceived as violating the sanctity of women in the house”.

When I think of ‘sanctity’, I think of sacredness, respect and perhaps something peaceful. I do not think of forcing women to stay indoors, excluding them from economic, social and political life, and often both direct and indirect threats of violence. Violence against women (VAW), in Afghanistan as it is in all countries, is a way of controlling women’s behaviour - indiscriminate of status.

Human Rights Watch estimates that c. 2,000 Afghan women and girls attempt suicide by setting themselves on fire every year due to domestic violence and early or forced marriages.  The UN estimates that up to 87.2% of all Afghan women have experienced some form of gender based violence. In a 2011 Thomson-Reuters poll, Afghanistan was named the most dangerous country for women and, according to the UN’s latest gender equality index, little has happened to change this status. 

As the 2014 troop withdrawal deadline looms, there has been an increase in attacks and threats against high-level women government officials and activists. In September 2013, Afghanistan’s highest ranking woman police officer, Sub-Inspector Negar, was murdered outside her home, just months after a fellow senior woman police officer was also shot and killed (Lieutenant Islam Bibi) in July. In August, parliamentarian Roh Gul Khairzad and her husband were injured and their daughter killed during an ambush as they left Kabul.  Also in August, Fariba Ahmadi Kakar MP and her three children were kidnapped and shortly released by the Taliban.

Since 2008, Women for Women International (WfWI) has  been piloting a men’s engagement programme (MEP) where we work with male religious and community leaders to develop their capacity (to reach out to men in their respective spheres of influence) to raise awareness among other men and the wider communities about the negative impact that sexual and gender based violence and restrictive customs have on their communities. Over the last 5 years, WfWI Afghanistan has trained more than 1300 mullahs and male community leaders, including 150 this year alone.  The training curriculum was developed by working with credible and respected scholars to deliver it from an Islamic perspective as well as by using Afghan law, such as the constitution. 

Ghulam is one of our MEP graduates from the Nengarhar province. He’s 54 and has 10 children (5 daughters and 5 sons). He says: “I wish I could be young and know these issues, but now I am old and I have stopped some of my family from going to school, but now I will try my best to encourage my daughters and granddaughters to go to school and give them equal attentions in family and show them respectI thought keeping women and girls at home was what Islam says, because I didn’t know that Islam is about giving equal opportunities to both men and women in society.

Afghanistan, like most conflict affected countries, has very high levels of gender based violence which increases women’s insecurity – making it harder for them to realise their rights and more vulnerable to further abuse.

Survivors of violence are less likely to participate economically, socially and politically (including in peace processes) and – through this impact - the whole community becomes infected by the ‘pandemic’. As gender is a social construct, so too is VAW a social problem – one which requires a social solution in which men can and do play positive roles.

At Women for Women International, we believe that stronger women build stronger nations and that (with adequate access to resources) socially-excluded women can lead change towards peaceful and stable communities. This can’t happen if women are confined to the ‘sanctity’ of the home and their participation and behaviour is controlled through the threat of violence.