The Access to Justice project works in Herat and Badghis districts in Afghanistan. Across Afghanistan, getting justice is especially challenging for women. In a recent study by the United Nations, just 5% of cases of violence against women resulted in punishment for the accused. And this is just in the formal courts.
This is compounded by extremely high instances of abuse against women.
Mahjabeen grew up in a low-income neighbourhood in the capital city of Badghis Province. When she was still a child, her father married her to a man in the neighbouring district in exchange for wheat. Mahjabeen soon discovered Asghar was an active and well-known member of the Taliban.
Mahjabeen does not have any happy memories from her marriage with Asghar. From the beginning of their marriage, Asghar regularly beat her and he did not supply her with even basic commodities such as food, water, cloths and medicine. Mahjabeen and Asghar had four children together.
After four years of marriage, Asghar brought home a second wife. After the second marriage, Asghar and the second wife took turns physically abusing Mahjabeen. Mahjabeen attempted to escape from Asghar’s home three times. Each time, Asghar found Mahjabeen, captured her, and forced her to return to his home, where he would punish Mahjabeen with increased physical violence.
Mahjabeen did manage to notify the Community Shura (the group of local elders who normally preside of legal matters) about her husband’s physical abuse. But because her husband was in the Taliban, nobody dared to resolve her case, for fear that the Taliban would seek retribution.
When the Shura refused Mahjabeen’s case, she decided to refer her divorce case to the Formal Justice System in the Ab-Kamari District Primary Court. When Asghar realised that Mahjabben had attempted to file for divorce case against him, he held her captive inside his home. He brought Mahjabeen to trial by the Taliban for her 'crime' of attempting to divorce. The Taliban’s punishment for this crime is public death by stoning.
The ITL project works primarily through the establishment of CBHRCs (Community Based Human Rights Committees). These comprise a number of influential members of the community - where possible including a woman. They also include at least in trained Human Rights Defender. Deeply involved in the local community, the CBHRC raises awareness of human rights and is able to advocate for community members when they have been victimised.
It was the local CBHRC which was able to intervene Mahjabeen's case. When they became aware of her situation, they liaised with the Shura who advised that because of the severity of Mahjabeen's situation, it was best for her to escape.
After hearing the Shura’s advice, when Mahjabeen had some time to plan, she took the brave risk of escaping her husband’s home again before the Taliban trial.
He (my husband) came to my family house looking for me. He insisted that I drop the divorce case and go back home with him. I was afraid for my life. I decided death was better than a life with him - and taking my own life was better than death by stoning from the Taliban. I ran to the well in the garden and attempted to jump down the well to my death. He saw that I was serious about attempting suicide, so he left.
This time, she took two of her four children. With support from the CBHRC she sought shelter in a relative’s house in the capital of Badghis, Qala-e-Naw.
When the CBHRC members of Qala-e-Naw city were made aware of Mahjabeen’s case and that she couldn’t get to justice inside her community, they asked a legal awareness officer from Christian Aid's partner agency CRDSA for advice.
The legal awareness officer advised Mahjabeen to open her divorce case in the city Appeal Court (formal justice system). However, the Court refused to accept her case, stating that Mahjabeen already filed a divorce case in the Ab-Kamari District Primary Court. The system required Mahjabeen to return to the Ab-Kamari District and request the Court to transfer her case to the city Appeal Court. Mahjabeen couldn’t return to the village without facing imminent death.
The legal awareness officer worked closely with the village’s CBHRC, and transferred Mahjabeen’s case from Ab-Kamari district Primary Court and helped her to proceed her case in the Qala-e-Naw appeal court.
Custody of her children
The court is now processing Mahjabeen’s case. She looks forward to the day that she is divorced and has custody of all four of her children again.
Today, Mahjabeen is overjoyed about being free from the abusive relationship. Meanwhile, Asghar remains at large and is still active with the Taliban in operations against the government.
I am so grateful I am out of that situation. I hope my sisters never marry a man like him. If I didn't have the help from CBHRCs and the legal awareness officer of CRDSA, I am sure I would not be alive today.
The ITL Access to Justice project is in the process of establishing 90 CBHRCs across Herat and Badghis.