Hundreds of vulnerable women could be left at risk of abuse and even murder by government proposals to take control of dozens of NGO-run women’s shelters in Afghanistan, activists have warned.
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Kabul introduced proposals to take control of the financing of around 40 shelter centers and legal aid offices funded by NGOs around the country in February.
The legislation, which would require international donors to hand funding to the ministry which would then disburse the money to shelters, is intended to tackle transparency issues surrounding the funding of the centres, which have proliferated since the Taliban regime was overthrown in a US-led invasion in 2001.
But activists fear requiring shelters to seek funding from the government could put them under the control of conservative politicians who have publicly called for the closure of such shelters.
"I believe this will cause serious harm" to victims of violence against women," said Orzala Ashraf Nemat, an activist who helped formalise the shelter program in 2004.
"Any unplanned and rushing attempt to push this towards government control of Shelters could result in putting the lives of victims at risk,” she told the Telegraph.
Afghanistan ranks 152 out of 155 countries in global Gender Inequality Index. A Global Rights study found 87 percent of Afghan women experience violence in one form or another during their lives, 62 per cent of them multiple times.
Shelters funded by the international community provide aid and refuge to almost 300 women a year, and have a monthly operating budget of $14,000. An emergency appeal for funding raised only $13,500 last year.
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Conservative MPs have frequently criticised women’s shelters as a threat to Afghan culture and some have claimed they are a front for the sex trade.
Previous attempts to pass laws restricting the operation of the shelters in 2011 and 2013 were defeated, partly because of pressure from Western countries.
“Yes, there exits a transparency issue among many shelters in terms of funding, but the majority of these politicians are afraid of the shelters because they themselves are involved in violence against women,” said Fawzia Koofi, a prominent female MP and women’s rights activists who once survived a Taliban assassination attempt.
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