Years of civil war have considerably weakened government institutions in Afghanistan. This also applies to the courts, and it is mostly women who suffer the consequences. Laws that give women access to justice are in place, but the knowledge of many judges to implement them correctly is lacking. That is why Cordaid and the Hamida Barmaki Organization for the Rule of Law started a project to train female magistrates.
Just imagine: your husband suddenly dies and your in-laws keep the entire inheritance to themselves. Or you are abused by your spouse, but when you want to divorce him, you have nowhere to turn. These are issues that women in Afghanistan encounter on a daily basis. Many Afghan women, especially those living in the countryside, have little say over their own lives; they cannot voice their opinion or even go out on the streets alone. Afghan customs dictate that women are subservient to men.
“Thanks to our training, we know more about the laws and are more capable of translating them into practice.”
…Or are they?
After the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, the laws of Afghanistan have changed and women have been given equal rights. Yet, in reality, they often hit a brick wall. Because when they go to court to seek legal redress, the judges tend to rule to their disadvantage. This is because a lot of judges were educated during the reign of the Taliban and have received little or no follow-up schooling since. That often leads to judgements that do not match the law on paper.
300 female magistrates
As Cordaid believes it is important for women to have equal rights to men, we began a project together with the Hamida Barmaki Organization for the Rule of Law (HBORL). We asked 300 female magistrates and senior law students which challenges they encountered in their daily work and which subjects they wanted to learn more about. Their answer was clear: family and inheritance law.
The judges during their graduation ceremony.
The judges followed a yearlong intensive training course of ten sessions, with course materials specially developed for them. It opened their eyes: “We did not know that family law was so extensive. Thanks to our training, we know more about the laws and are more capable of translating them into practice,” they say.
“Judges who rule that women have fewer rights than men are just not enough aware of what is in the Holy Quran.”
The participants also studied the Quran, as the Quran states that women have a right to inheritance, an equal share in marriage, alimony, a right to get married or divorced, and special rights for custody over children. “Judges who rule that women have fewer rights than men are just not enough aware of what is in the Holy Quran.”
15 judges working for the Afghan Supreme Court were selected to follow additional training, so they will be able to transfer their knowledge to others.
The Association of Women Judges in Afghanistan (SWJA) was given 666 law and jurisprudence books on international law, sharia law, penal law, family law and trade law. With two new printers and assistance in office management, their work will be more efficient from now on.
We also organized debates with other judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers and police officers about the challenges of family law. Some of the female magistrates visited local communities and talked with families about what family courts could do for them.
All training participants were given acknowledgement by the Supreme Court for the certificate they received. Now, they work in family law positions in primary and secondary courts in the Afghan provinces. The Supreme Court has promised to follow up with mentoring of the women judges. Cordaid will also continue its partnership with the HBORL.
We are proud of this project’s achievements! Would you like to know more about Cordaid’s work in Afghanistan? Click here to read about our other projects.