Afghan Proposal Would Clamp Down on Women’s Shelters
ALISSA J. RUBIN
February 10, 2010
KABUL, Afghanistan — After her parents threw her out of the house for refusing to marry a 52-year-old widower with five children, Sabra, 18, boarded a bus that dropped her, afraid and confused, in downtown Kabul. She slept in a mosque for days, barely eating, until a woman took pity on her and put her in touch with human rights workers, who escorted her to a women’s shelter.
That journey — terrifying enough for a young woman who had never ventured beyond the corner bazaar — would become harder still under new rules being drafted by the Afghan government that women’s advocates say will deter the most vulnerable women and girls from seeking refuge and are placing shelters under siege.
The new rules speak to the suspicions that women’s shelters still generate in this deeply conservative society, where the shelters have come to symbolize the competition between modern values and traditional Afghan ways. Many believe their very existence at best encourages girls to run away from home and at worst are fronts for brothels.
The changes in the law would require a woman like Sabra to justify her flight to an eight-member government panel, which would determine whether she needed to be in a shelter or should be sent to jail or back home, where she would be at risk of a beating or even death. She would also have to undergo a physical exam that could include a virginity test.
While some are hopeful that the government may soften the provisions before final approval, women’s advocates see the effort as an example of government pandering to religious and social conservatives as President Hamid Karzai’s administration starts reconciliation efforts with insurgents. Women’s rights, they fear, will be the first area in which the government makes compromises….