I recently voted for the first time in my hometown in India’s Karnataka state.
The local government built pink polling booths to encourage women to vote. Despite the patronising stereotype in the choice of colour, I still felt an immense sense of empowerment. I encouraged women in my family to vote with me, to act on our belief that we deserve an inclusive state government, one that will protect the rights of minorities, the vulnerable.
I want the same for Afghanistan, the country I have chosen to serve in for the past three years.
As a lawyer and rights activist, improved rule of law and better protection of women’s rights are the two aspirational reforms that I’d like to see in Afghanistan.
Practices such as giving women away to settle a dispute (baad), selling women in marriage or to repay a debt, child marriage, exchange marriage (badal) are less commonplace but far from eradicated.
The Asia Foundation survey for 2017 notes that the popularity and use of the local dispute resolution has been consistent since the past half a decade in Afghanustan. One in five Afghans have been found to rely on these local institutions. The World Justice Project, in its 2016 report on the Rule of Law in Afghanistan is clear in finding that most of its respondents were unanimous in suggesting the community elders (and commnuity based dispute resolution) as the de facto method for solving problems among the local residents.
Despite their popularity, local dispute resolution mechansims that work as the informal justice institutions in Afghanistan are far from being free of traditional and harmful social practices as well as biased towards influential persons and powerholders.
As a means for ensuring greater access to justice for the people of the country, I am currently focussed on supporting the Government of Afghanistan to recognise and link informal justice mechanisms with the formal justice sector. In order to ensure an inclusive and community oriented Draft Law on Conciliation of Civil Disputes, UNDP assisted the Ministry of Justice to pursue an inclusive legislative drafting methodology. Community consultations were organised through UNDP technical support and assistance in Kabul, Jalalabad, Herat and Mazar, on the Draft Law. Representing regional interests from across the country, participants all agreed on the objectives of the Draft Law and the need to regulate and recognise the informal justice systems and bring them closer to the formal system.
Requiring jirgas and shuras to protect the rights of women and children is a necessary step in protecting the rule of law in Afghanistan. The draft law ensures that the decisions in the informal justice system are registered with the courts, bringing them in line with Afghanistan’s law and its constitution, rather than operating in a legal vacuum and silos.
The Draft Law is now being reviewed and redrafted by the Ministry of Justice based on the recommendations and feedback from the community consultations. A redraft will be presented for the review of the Council of Ministers. This will be followed by a consultation with civil society and other rights based organisations in Afghanistan. I strongly believe that this law, once in force, will reduce inequality, discrimination and exclusion.
With the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections, I hope that the women in Afghanistan play a bigger and important role not just in exercising their franchise but as successful parliamentarians. Walking with the women in Afghanistan through their journey of empowerment and self realisation is my main motivation for woking in this country.