Last Updated: Monday, 05 June 2023, 10:55 GMT

Lack of Female Lawyers Hampers Justice in Afghan Province

Publisher Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Publication Date 3 December 2015
Cite as Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Lack of Female Lawyers Hampers Justice in Afghan Province, 3 December 2015, available at: [accessed 6 June 2023]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Women accused of crimes say they find it hard to talk to male advocates.

Zarifa is two years into a seven-year sentence for child abduction. Shaking with anger, she said that she had been arrested, sentenced and imprisoned with little recourse to legal advice. Any chance of lodging an appeal seemed remote, she added.

"Over the past two years, I have only seen my defence lawyer once. Since he is a man, he can't really help me. Women cannot always explain every detail of their story to a man. We need to be able to talk to female defence lawyers," she told IWPR.

Women in detention in Parwan, northwest of Kabul, say access to justice is hampered by the fact that there is not a single female lawyer working in the entire province. Issues of shame and modesty leave them unable to tell male defence lawyers and prosecutors the full facts of their case. This means that circumstances which could mitigate the severity of their sentences may never be disclosed.

Suraya, 40, is serving a 17-year-sentence for killing her daughter. She is one of 15 prisoners currently being held in the women's jail in Parwan.

"My lawyer was unable to do anything to help me," she told IWPR. "Maybe it was because he was a man that he couldn't properly understand me. If our lawyers were women, they would have a better appreciation of our problems and we'd be able to share all the details of our stories with them."

There are persistent complaints of widespread corruption in the judicial system. Women are at a particular disadvantage as, without financial resources or influential connections, they have little protection.

Parwan resident Samiullah agreed that connections and bribery played a decisive role in the fate of anyone accused of a crime. He said he had seen evidence of this at first hand.

"One woman who had no other resources was even asked to provide eggs from the chickens she was raising at home in order for her case to be processed in the attorney's office," Samiullah said.

Some local politicians and officials are sympathetic to the women's complaints. Parwan provincial councillor Hasiba Efat said she had visited the female prisoners and was not at all satisfied with how their cases had been handled.

"I shared this issue with the attorney-general's office and we included it on the provincial council's agenda, and decided that the problems of women prisoners needed to be carefully reviewed," she added.

Nadira Gia, head of the provincial department of women affairs in Parwan, said she too had raised the issue at a number of levels.

"I have talked to the attorney-general's office many times about how there should be female lawyers for women prisoners," she said. "I have also taken this to the ministry of women's affairs, to Da Qanun Ghushtonki [a charity providing free legal aid] as well as other groups," she said. "They all made promises, but they haven't done anything to help yet."

Basir Azizi, spokesman for the office of the attorney-general, Afghanistan's chief prosecutor, acknowledged that the lack of female lawyers was a problem across the country.

"Since security is not assured, a female defence lawyer cannot travel to the provinces," he said. "Also, foolish traditional customs prevent many women from becoming lawyers."

However, Azizi told IWPR that convicted criminals always complained about court decisions, and said the concerns raised by female prisoners in Parwan were unfounded.

"When the law is applied to criminals, they blame the judicial institutions, so they start to disrupt our investigations and tell lies," he added.

Payenda Mohammad Etimadi, head of the appeals office in Parwan province, also dismissed complaints that women were denied access to justice. He said that female suspects were treated fairly and that all charges against them backed up with supporting evidence.

"The story the offender tells is always the opposite of what really happened," Etimadi added.

Parwin Rahimi heads the women's rights advocacy and development department at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) in Kabul. She accepts that the lack of female lawyers is a problem, but says her organisation's monthly visits to the Parwan prison shows that conditions there are fair.

"As far as we have seen, women prisoners in Parwan are in a good position. Their files have been handled properly," she said.

Although levels of female participation in public life in Afghanistan have increased dramatically since the Taleban government was ousted in 2001, progress in some fields including the law has been slow.

This summer, parliament declined to ratify the nomination of Anisa Rasuli, head of the Afghan Women Judges' Association, as the country's first ever female Supreme Court judge.

University lecturer Abdulhakim Nasrat Elahi, a former provincial council member, agrees that women suffer as a result of the scarcity of female legal representation, and cautions that male lawyers are not always sympathetic.

"It's vital for someone accused of a crime to have a defence lawyer," he said. "Defence lawyers should meet with their client several times, but those appointed by the state don't show a great deal of interest in their cases. Privately-hired lawyers do a better job than government defence lawyers," he said.

Wahida Shahkar is an IWPR-trained reporter in Parwan province. Mina Habib is an IWPR reporter in Kabul.

Copyright notice: © Institute for War & Peace Reporting

Search Refworld