Where Is the Justice for Afghan Women After Spending $60-Billion in Civilian Aid?

Published on Huffington Post (World Section) here

When I saw the horrifying footage of 22-year-old Najiba being publicly executed the first thought that came to my mind was, are Afghan women and girls ever going to get justice? Clearly not, considering the lack of interest shown by the Afghanistan government in women’s rights. The majority of men who have beaten, raped and killed women go unpunished. In April, Young Women for Change defied safety fears and came out in a public protest to highlight these cases. However, no government official could be bothered to come out and listen to their concerns. Perhaps this is not surprising when you consider what the Minster of Justice thinks about vulnerable women. Last month Habibullah Ghaleb claimed those living in women’s shelters are prostitutes. Despite calls from women’s NGOs, President Karzai has refused to fire the minister.

There should be zero tolerance of such attitudes amongst decision makers, particularly if they are in charge of spending budgets on improving the rights of women. Donor countries had the perfect opportunity to intervene. They had every right to demand the removal of Ghaleb. The U.S. alone is spending $110 million annually on the Afghan judicial system and this minister is making decisions on how some of these funds are used, which includes improving women’s access to justice. When he has shown he cannot be objective about women, why have all aid donors accepted that Ghaleb remains in charge of how their money is spent?

Despite such vast sums going into the judiciary, the rights of Afghan girls and woman continue to be abused both in national and local courts. Most are unaware of their legal rights and lack support to defend their rights through the judicial system. So what on earth is the money being spent on? The fact that the Taliban had the audacity to carry out Najiba’s execution so publicly (with 150 or so men watching) and only a few miles from the capital city of Kabul shows lack of government control. It raises the question, do the Taliban control everything outside of Kabul or are some government officials colluding with them?

So the only hope that women and girls have is the international community, and by that I mean all of us. We need to question our governments on why our money is not improving the safety of women and girls and providing them with justice. These questions should have been asked a long time ago, because “Afghanistan has received nearly $60-billion in civilian aid since 2002.”

Perhaps the image of Najiba kneeling down in the dirt and being shot several times at close range has finally outraged us enough to speak out. Stories of Afghan women suffering violence regularly make it into the news. How many times have we just ended up sharing them through social media and done little more than that? I have been guilty of that, too — but this time I was so angry that I felt compelled to do something and contribute in some way. Within hours of watching Najiba’s murder, I set up a petition calling on the governments of the UK, U.S., Germany and Japan to ensure the Afghan government not only bring Najiba’s killers to justice, but do more to protect Afghan women. You, too, can join in and take action by signing and sharing the petition.

I have targeted UK, U.S., Germany and Japan in particular as they will be the largest donors of the $16 billion of civil aid pledged to Afghanistan over the next four years. They should be ringfencing sufficient aid to ensure it is spent on measures that will increase women and girl’s safety and security and access to justice. Hollow pledges and public statements by senior government officials, particularly by Hillary Clinton, should no longer satisfy us. She has said, “Afghan women will not be abandoned” and “women’s rights must be an integral part of Afghanistan’s future” — but these are very broad statements. She has failed to back them with specific measures, firm action and stringent conditions to make them a reality.

Recently, British Foreign Secretary William Hague also made a public statement. He said he was “shocked and disgusted” by Najiba’s murder. He has even publicly called upon the Afghanistan government to bring the perpetrators to justice. However, once the publicity subsides, he and other world leaders will forget her. Najiba will just become another Afghan female statistic. We can make sure that world leaders do not forget this Afghan woman — her death can be used to help other women and girls get justice. Powerful images can turn history and perhaps Najiba’s video may do the same. In a country where demonstrations are rare, dozens came out in Kabul to protest against her killing and demand that the government take serious action to prevent violence against women.

The Afghan government depends almost entirely on foreign aid and I think it is time to say “if you want the money, you must show how you are protecting women’s rights.” The global public needs to ensure donor governments make that happen. If women’s rights are not improved over the next four years, the likelihood is that the most educated and skilled women will leave the country while the rest will be too scared to go out and continue to suffer in silence.

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