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Women’s shelters in danger of closure in Afghanistan

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Summary of story from The New York Times, 10.2.11.

The Afghan government is drafting plans to clamp down on women’s shelters because they fear shelters compete between modern values and traditional ways.

Government officials believe their very existence, at best, encourages girls to run away from home and, at worst, are fronts for brothels.

The changes in the law would require a teenager like Sabra, who was ostracised for refusing to marry a 52-year-old widower with five children, to justify her flight to an eight-member government panel.

They would determine whether she needed to be in a shelter or should be sent to jail or back home, where she would be at risk of a beating or even death. She would also have to undergo a physical exam that could include a virginity test.

Manizha Naderi, the director of Women for Afghan Women, which runs three shelters and five family counseling centers around the country, said:  “I’m not sure why they are doing it — maybe because the government is becoming more conservative and to appease the Taliban they are doing things like this.”

“Domestic violence is cultural and it takes time to change and it will change, but women need a safe place when they are a victim of violence,” she added.

Some conservative members of parliament would like to have the shelters closed altogether.

Hajji Neyaz Mohammed, a lawmaker from Ghazni Province, bluntly condemned shelters as “the official places for increasing perversion in our country.”

“These shelters create problems in families and homes, and they motivate girls to flee from their houses,” he said.

There are about 14 women’s shelters in Afgansitan, funded by a mix of international organisations, private donors and Western governments.

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