VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IN AFGHANISTAN -- (Senate - July 24, 2009)
Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I wish to speak about women in Afghanistan. After months of collaborative discussions between women's advocacy groups and the Government of Afghanistan, the Elimination of Violence Against Women Act was just signed by Executive decree. I applaud the women who pushed for this bill, and those in the government who jointly prepared it. It represents transparency and collaboration between civil society and the government, something we should all congratulate. The bill will head to Parliament for final review when it reconvenes next week. It is my strong hope that Parliament review the law and pass it without delay, ensuring all protections remain intact. This bill provides real criminal sanctions for violence against women, and puts specific responsibilities onto the shoulders of government ministries. When we think of the abuse and repression exercised against women during the Taliban regime, it is hard not to feel encouraged by the very existence of this act, let alone its prospect for enactment.
Many, quite plausibly, will say that this law cannot be fully implemented anywhere in Afghanistan, as access to justice for women in the courts and in traditional councils is all too often out of reach, and because of the societal discrimination that women still suffer. Justice must be accessible to women in Afghanistan on an equal basis to men, or Afghanistan will never tap into the true, vast potential of the women of that country. This law is a giant step for the entire country in rejecting violence against women, but now the Parliament must take the final step to pass the law as it is, with all protections intact.
I must also mention the controversial Shia Personal Status Law that was also signed by Executive decree. It was drafted without transparency, and aimed to codify degrading practices that exist in some households and communities. Unlike the Elimination of Violence Against Women Act, civil society was not included during the drafting and debate of the law in Parliament. While women's civil organizations were able to force some amendments to the bill just before the president's signature, they were not able to fully cleanse the bill of some harmful provisions. Now that the bill has been signed, I call on the Government of Afghanistan to communicate widely and openly about the final substance of the law.
The timing of this is vital. Afghanistan is about to go to the polls for presidential and provincial elections, and all eyes will be watching how and to what extent women participate. Women's access to the polls is imperative, and the value of their vote must be considered by the candidates.