Addressing Gender-specific Violations in Afghanistan

Fatima Ayub, Sari Kouvo and Yasmin Sooka / International Center for Transitional Justice
Publication Date: 
February, 2009

Addressing Gender-specific Violations in Afghanistan

Afghanistan Program
International Center for Transitional Justice

I. Introduction

For the field of transitional justice, which seeks mechanisms and processes to reestablish peace and encourage accountability for past crimes and reconciliation within conflict-ridden communities,questions of violations that women suffer during conflicts are especially pertinent. Decoding the gendered nature of conflict and violations committed during such an event is complicated by the fact that women are often overlooked as actors and victims. Furthermore the crimes against women during such circumstances are seldom specific to outbreaks of war; the conflict merely accentuates discrimination and violations that women suffer during peace.

In the context of post-conflict Afghanistan, the issue of past violations and gender is particularly vexing. The U.S.-led military intervention in Afghanistan was legitimized in part with the rationale of “saving Afghan women” from the oppressive Taliban regime, and a language of empowerment of women and mainstreaming of gender has been integral in the state-building process in Afghanistan.

At the formal level, Afghanistan has made some advances in the past eight years. Yet close observers realized that removing the Taliban from power was not the end of the struggle for women’s rights, or even the beginning. This was not a nation with a legacy of well-established, legally protected and socially accepted women’s rights. The crippling legacy of decades of fighting has strained many of Afghanistan’s social and political bonds. Little documented, the experience of Afghan women through the Soviet, civil and Taliban-era wars has been a particularly grueling one, and existing social biases and discrimination exacerbate the consequences of those conflicts. In addition, Afghanistan, especially outside its main urban centers, remains an intensely patriarchal society with complex tribal codes and customs circumscribing social interaction. The relationship between women’s and men’s roles is marked by these codes and patterns.

This four-part paper analyzes the relationship between transitional justice and gender in Afghanistan. First, it discusses transitional justice and gender in general, drawing on experiences from other postconflict contexts. Second, it provides a brief overview of the three decades of conflict and the complex gender relations in Afghan society. Third, it discusses transitional justice and gender in the post-2001, state-building process in Afghanistan. And last it concludes with recommendations.

Research for this paper began in January 2007 and lasted through March 2008. The authors have
benefited from extensive interviews and conversations conducted in the country, as well as outside its borders. The authors reviewed literature on gender issues in Afghanistan; a source list is appended for further reading. The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) also conducted training on documenting gender-specific violations in Kabul for the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in December 2007. We have included insights and commentary from those discussions here.