“My parents warned me they will kill me if I ever leave this shelter,” Najla, a woman of about 30, told me. “The worst thing is that I don’t have anyone to support me.” She has been in a shelter in Afghanistan’s western city of Herat for several years, ever since she went to the police to report her husband, who had repeatedly beaten her. When I spoke with her, her husband was being prosecuted but the court had not yet reached a verdict.
The case of Najla, a pseudonym, is similar to those of many women and girls I spoke with who had tried to pursue justice in cases of family violence. Their only legal tool was Afghanistan’s Elimination of Violence Against Women law, one of the most important developments for women in Afghanistan in the post-2001 era. Adopted in 2009, the law provides women and girls with legal protection from domestic violence, and established services for survivors of violence, including access to free health care, legal aid, and shelters.
For many women fleeing violence, shelters – which were entirely funded by foreign donors –were the only refuge. Filing a complaint about family violence or sexual assault has never been easy, but with access to these shelters some women were able to escape harmful environments and start new lives. Many are dealing with anxiety and other effects of the years of abuse they experienced, for which there are few resources to help them.
Maryam, a pseudonym, who was 17 when I interviewed her at a shelter in the city of Bamiyan, had been raped and was being pressured by her family to marry the perpetrator. She refused to do so, and instead took refuge in the shelter to protect herself from her own relatives.
With the Taliban taking over Afghanistan, the future for Maryam, Najla, and other women and girls like them is bleak. The prosecutors, judges, and lawyers who had tried to provide women with a measure of justice are in hiding themselves, fearing reprisals by the Taliban. And with shelters closing, those who called them home have no choice but to return to their abusive families. Afghanistan’s hard-won progress on women’s rights is abruptly disappearing before their eyes.