Human Rights Watch (HRW) has issued a new warning on the failures of Afghanistan's justice system to adequately protect women and said gains by Taliban militants currently waging an all-out push for territory "further risk crucial legal protections."
In a 32-page report on the implementation of a law to eliminate violence against women, the watchdog cites a government "failure to provide accountability for violence against women and girls."
The fresh warning follows months of territorial gains in dozens of districts across Afghanistan by hard-line fundamentalist Taliban fighters as U.S.-led international forces speed their pullout to make a deadline at the end of this month.
The Taliban has also besieged major Afghan cities amid reports of revenge attacks against perceived opponents, including a 21-year-old Afghan woman who was shot dead as she left her home for allegedly wearing too little clothing and going out without a male chaperone.
Afghanistan's Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law was originally passed by presidential decree in 2009 amid resistance from conservative opponents and provides protection for women against violence as well as forced marriages, underage marriages, and polygamous relationships.
It was regarded as a significant achievement by the government, women's rights activists, and the country's nascent civil society.
But HRW said in a statement on the new report that "limited enforcement of the landmark...EVAW law has left many women and girls with no path to key protections and justice."
"With the Taliban making sweeping territorial gains, the prospect of a Taliban-dominated government also threatens constitutional and international law protections for Afghan women’s fundamental rights," the group said.
HRW Asia Associate Director Patricia Gossman urged international donors to "strengthen their commitment to protect women caught between government inaction and expanding Taliban control."
“The international community must step up its efforts to protect the achievements and rights of women facing precarious conditions," Gossman told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi.
Afghans living in areas recently captured by the Taliban say the militant group has reimposed many of the repressive laws and retrograde policies that defined its 1996-2001 rule.
They include forcing women to cover themselves from head to toe, banning them from working outside the home, severely limiting girls’ education, and requiring women to be accompanied by a male relative when they left their homes.
"The main concern of Afghan women is that their rights are protected,” Hila Mojtaba, a women’s rights activist, told RFE/RL. “We want freedom within the law and our demands must be respected."
Meanwhile, Roya Dadras, a spokeswoman for the Women’s Affairs Ministry, said the government was committed to protecting women’s rights and gains.
"We acknowledge that there are problems because of the war situation,” she said. “But I can say that the government has protected women's rights.”
The report is based on more than 60 interviews with women and girls who reported crimes, as well as participants in the justice system and advocacy groups.
HRW said "full implementation of the law remains elusive, with police, prosecutors, and judges often deterring women from filing complaints and pressing them to seek mediation within their family instead."
It also cites family pressure, financial constraints, stigmatization, and fear of reprisal as factors that discourage the registering of cases.