More Female Prosecutors for Afghanistan
July 18, 2018
Female participation in the legal sector has increased dramatically in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, but fundamental legal and gender reforms have yet to truly take root in the country. Afghan society’s strict segregation of the sexes, and a shortage of female legal professionals, makes it difficult for women to seek redress through the formal justice sector—where they face shame, intimidation, and gender bias. Despite the severe need for female prosecutors in district centers and at the provincial level, their overall number remains low. It is uncommon for Afghan women to register claims with local courts or an Attorney General’s Office (AGO), both of which are dominated by men.
A survey by the International Development Law Organization found that women in 2013 comprised just over 8 percent of judges, 6 percent of prosecutors, and less than one-fifth of lawyers in Afghanistan. Most women in the legal sector are concentrated in the capital city, Kabul. In rural areas of the country, fewer than one prosecutor in 30 is a woman, a stark gender imbalance that severely affects women’s access to justice and vital legal services. There is an overwhelming need for more women in the legal sector, especially as prosecutors, to encourage more women to come forward with complaints and injustices, which in turn will strengthen the rule of law in Afghanistan.
In response, the current attorney general and his office have demonstrated a strong commitment to expanding the number of female prosecutors across the country and improving access to justice for Afghan women. In a partnership with The Asia Foundation, working through the USAID-funded project Strengthening Education in Afghanistan II, the AGO successfully recruited 115 women from a six-month, Foundation-led legal internship program. The program offered 242 female graduates of national law faculties (focused on civil law) and Sharia faculties (centered on Islamic law) six-month legal internships, preceded by a month of pre-entry training, at AGO centers in 31 provinces (unfortunately, no suitable interns could be identified in the three provinces of Nuristan, Paktika, and Zabul). The interns received training in practical skills such as legal writing, public speaking, courtroom behavior, networking, and basic computer literacy. The overall goal was to prepare them for success on the AGO entrance examination, giving them the opportunity to join the legal sector as entry-level prosecutors across the country.
Of the 242 graduates, 115 were hired by the AGO and are now working as prosecutors in 31 provinces, an unprecedented achievement, particularly as the internships focused on remote provinces such as Badghis, Ghor, and Sar-e-Pul, where less than 2 percent of prosecutors are women. The program has helped dramatically increase the proportion of women at the AGO—from 3 percent to 20.7 percent—moving this vital national institution several steps closer to its stated goal of 30 percent.
Beyond improving women’s representation in the legal sector, the internships have also empowered the young women themselves. Zakya, a 22-year-old law graduate from Balkh University in Mazar-e Sharif, says she has benefited greatly from the pretraining courses offered under the internship. She and her fellow interns were “taught that women are not incompetent,” she says, and today she is excited that she can see her dream of becoming a prosecutor and serving the Afghan people coming true.
Ahmad Zaki Manawi is a senior project officer for The Asia Foundation in Afghanistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation.
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