South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

July 05, 2017

Donor’s Fallacy of Gender Equality: UNWOMEN’s failed strategies in Protection of Afghan women 

“In 2013, a group of armed men abducted Lal Bibi in Kunduz province (fallen into Taleban hands twice).She was gang raped by armed militias repeatedly over several days. Lal Bibi and her family approached a women shelter in Kabul and the activists in shelter took the case to an open court & sentenced the rapists for 20 years. Lal Bibi, an 18 year old young woman was given refuge and support in a woman’s shelter andrehabilitates, where she received full legal support to access justice”

Today, scores of women and girls like Lal Bibi are subject to violence & suppression in homes and in public in Afghan society and their only hope remains a women protection center (earlier called shelter) so her life can be saved.

Since 2003, Women Protection Centers are initiated by women activists in support of women facing severe forms ofviolence in Afghanistan. Despite of the fact that its not considered “culturally appropriate for women” and has been a controversial issue among the conservative elements of the society, women protection centers have saved lives of 100 women up to date. Women activists, who have been running women protection centers, faced several threats, were jailed and intimated by theextremists, intimidated by powerbrokers and influential men within government and other parallel structures, but they didn’t give up. 

In 2011, the Afghan government attempted to take over the control of women protection centers exactly at the time when number of women victims escaping various forms violence from family and society had increased. Violent husbands pressurized government, local warlords and local malitia’s to return back the women living in protection centers and shut down the structures. If these women were returned back, most of them would not have been alive today. as women’s number increased to seek shelter in these centers    Women activists, the Afghan Women’s Network and so many national and international supporters stood up against the decision and the government was pushed back and the protection centers continued to be managed independently by the women activists and organizations with fundingfrom international donors. The major challenge, however has been that the international community allocating money for protection of women into the “EVAW Trust Fund” being managed by UNWOMEN through projects. UNWOMEN for years   have not been able to integrate itself with the local women organizations and has operated from their safety Island with a number of disconnected staff members’ mainly Afghan men who hardly understand the sensitivities involved around issues of violence against women.

Recently as an abrupt decision, UNWOMEN has decided to transfer the control and management of the three women shelters from a women led & activist organization to   male run organizations that are working for anything but women’s rights. Our detailed research resulted in finding their background experience includes agriculture and construction projects. The justification for not funding the 17 years old organization to run it is protection centers has been the weak proposal. It’s highly insensitive of UNWOMEN to declare the winning criteria of a project proposal only the technicality of a project document done well in English language. UNWOMEN, while managing Eradicating Violence against Women (EVAW Trust Fund) has failed to build the capacity of women organizations for which they are mandated. The Trust Fund that’s supported by the Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Finland and many other European and Nordic countries has no local woman activist on board. 

In a country like Afghanistan, where women are physically and sexually abused, it will be more than impossible for the victims to even ask a man for support or simply explain her situation. We are also fearful that if a woman’s protection center is run by a maleorganization, the community will backlash, and will close the doors of protection centers for women in the years to come. Such a risk is not only undermining the role of women organizations, but also will vanish any hopes of justice for the victims such as Lal Bibi. 

It’s disappointing that the new trend in Afghanistan that men who don’t believe in women’s rights are being co-opted by the international funding projects under the new donor trends “He for She” and we believe that handing over the protection centers of abused and raped women to those male run organizations is a risky experiment that will put the lives of so many women at risk.

We call on the international funders, donor countries, and every women taxpayer from the donor countries to question accountability of UNWOMEN in Afghanistan.

Undersigned by: 

Afghan Women’s Network, Shelter’s Advisory Board, Palwasha Hassan, Asila Wardak, Mary Akrami, Samira Hamidi, Shafiqa Habibi, Wazhma Frogh, Rangina Hamidi, Nooria Safi, Roshan Siran, Maky Siawash, Gulalai Noor Safi, Hasina Safi