One of Afghanistan’s most senior police officers and a veteran women’s rights advocate have come to Australia to join forces with Oxfam to urge the Abbott Government not to desert Afghanistan’s women in their hour of need, with almost 90 percent of women and girls in the troubled country still suffering abuse.
Despite advances on women’s rights since 2001, Afghan women still face alarming rates of gender based violence, with 87 percent of Afghan women suffering at least one form of physical, sexual or psychological abuse and more than half experiencing multiple kinds of violence and abuse.
The Abbott Government’s budget, handed down on Tuesday, maintained aid to Afghanistan at $130 million, but pulled the assistance of the Australian Federal Police. The AFP have played an important role in the country, providing basic training to Afghanistan police, including training around violence against women.
Colonel Najibullah Samsour, Chief of District 10 Police, Afghan Police Force, said the cutting of AFP support to the country was regrettable, adding that it was critical that the international community backed Afghanistan in developing a police force capable and willing to protect women and girls.
“In Afghanistan’s conservative society, there is strong evidence that Afghan women feel more comfortable reporting crimes to policewomen,” Colonel Samsour said.
“Yet at present women make up less than 1 per cent of the Afghan police force. More needs to be done to keep policewomen safe at work and within their communities, recruit talented women and give them greater opportunities for training and advancement.”
Ms Zulaikha Rafiq, Director of the Afghan Women Educational Centre (AWEC), who was brought out to Australia by Oxfam, said many Afghan women fear that human rights gains made since 2001 could be eroded.
“With the backing of the international community, women in Afghanistan are playing a much more visible role in public life and women’s access to education and health has increased,” Ms Rafiq said.
“If the international community turns its backs on us now, the women of Afghanistan will be in a precarious situation. Helping to reduce the rates of violence, increase women’s access to justice and increase women’s political and economic empowerment must be a high priority for Australia.”
Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Helen Szoke welcomed the fact the government had not reduced the country’s aid budget, but said the $130 million figure fell short of prior commitments, with funding levels falling from $200 million in 2012.
“Australia has made an enormous investment in Afghanistan over the past decade, and has a clear stake and responsibility to ensure the Afghan people have a safe and prosperous future,” Dr Szoke said. “A vital part of that will be ensuring women’s rights are protected.”
The delegation will give public talks in Sydney today (6pm, Parramatta Town Hall, 182 Church St, Parramatta) and Melbourne on Friday (5.30pm, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law) discussing how women’s rights can be strengthened in Afghanistan titled Afghanistan at a Crossroads.
To arrange an interview please contact Oxfam Australia Media Coordinator Angus Hohenboken on 0428 367 318 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note Colonel Samsour does not speak English, but he is travelling with a translator.