Survivors of gender-based violence ‘abandoned’ following Afghanistan withdrawal

By Kit Roberts

AMNESTY International has said that survivors of gender-based violence in Afghanistan have been ‘abandoned’ in the country following the withdrawal of coalition forces.

In a statement, the organisation said that the dismantling of support networks including the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, as well as the opening of prisons, has rendered women and girls across the country extremely vulnerable.

Interviews conducted with survivors and service-providers revealed that the Taliban have closed shelters and released detainees from jail.

Many of those released by the Taliban have been convicted of ‘gender-based violence’, including rape, beating, and forced marriage.

Prior to the Taliban’s takeover, a support network for women and girls who suffered gender-based violence existed within the country comprising of shelters, as well as pro bono legal representation, and medical treatment.

This was co-ordinated through the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, which has since been closed down.

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said:

“Women and girl survivors of gender-based violence have essentially been abandoned in Afghanistan. Their network of support has been dismantled, and their places of refuge have all but 7.

“It defies belief that the Taliban threw open prison doors across the country, with no thought of the risks that convicted perpetrators pose to the women and girls they victimised, and to those who worked on survivors’ behalf.

“To protect women and girls from further violence, the Taliban must allow and support the reopening of shelters and the restoration of other protective services for survivors, reinstate the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and ensure that service providers can work freely and without fear of retaliation.”

On 26 and 29 November, Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen told Amnesty via telephone: “There is no place for violence against women and girls, according to the rules of Islam… 

“The women facing domestic violence can be referred to the courts, and the courts will hear their cases… and their grievances will be addressed.”

However, reports coming out of the Afghanistan indicated that the group were freeing prisoners as they advanced, an allegation the Taliban has denied.

But the denial is contradicted by multiple eye-witnesses as well as media reporting.

The release of prisoners has left not only survivors of abuse, but also the people who work or worked in the support networks that helped them at risk of reprisals.

Combined with the dismantling of what support networks were in place, Amnesty claims that this has effectively left the women and girls abandoned in Afghanistan.

Since taking power, the Taliban have also introduced measures barring girls from the same level of education as boys, and forced women and girls into marriage as ‘the spoils of war’. 

Amnesty has also called for international funding to re-establish and maintain the networks that were available to abuse survivors, and stressed the urgent need to evacuate what survivors have been left stranded in the country.

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