Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Women's Rights on the Radio

This May, Global Rights began a unique radio program in Afghanistan that focuses exclusively on legal issues related to the family and women’s rights.

The program, called Zan wa Huqooq Khanewada (Women and Family Law), will feature 12 broadcasts, each focusing on different topics such as divorce, child custody and domestic violence. The radio show will be broadcast on one of Afghanistan’s most popular stations, Radio Azadi, which reaches more than 90 percent of the country. The host of the show is Ruhullah Habib, a former judge and lawyer who works in Global Rights’ legal aid bureau in Kabul. Mr. Habib is also an alumnus of our Young Lawyers in Training Program.

Right: Lawyer and alumnus of Global Rights' human rights university courses speaks to callers about legal issues related to women's rights and the family. Left: the host of Radio Azadi.

The second show, which aired May 12, focused on the legal age of marriage, which in Afghanistan is 16 for girls and 18 for boys—although 57 percent of women are married off before they turn 16, according to a 2008 report by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), which is now UN Women. In addition, between 60 and 80 percent of women who marry are forced into marriage, according to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. The Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law, which was enacted by a presidential decree in Afghanistan in 2009, made forced child marriages illegal. The decree however, is not often enforced.

Men and women call into the radio show before it airs to record their questions about the current topic. During the May 12 broadcast, one listener asked whether a man who forces an underage girl to marry will be sentenced to jail. Mr. Ruhullah said that, indeed, the EVAW decree explicitly states that it’s illegal for anyone to force a girl younger than 16 to marry. Another listener asked whether a person from the Sunni branch of Islam can marry someone who is Shia. Mr. Ruhullah confirmed that yes, a Shia and Sunni can marry one another.

Global Rights operates four legal aid bureaus in the populous Afghan provinces of Kabul, Balkh, Nangarhar and Herat. Since we began the legal aid program in 2009, we’ve reached about 5,000 Afghans—many of whom are women who have been severely abused by their husbands and are desperate to leave their spouses. The new radio show allows us to reach many more women—and men—who want to know what Afghan civil law and Islamic law say about women’s rights in family-related issues. Unfortunately, not every woman can make it to our legal aid bureaus, so the radio show gives them a unique opportunity to get answers to their questions and find ways to bring positive change to their lives by using the law.

The last radio broadcast will take place on July 21. Over the next many broadcasts, we are hopeful that the head of the family court in Kabul, Judge Rahima Rezai, who is a widow and mother of four, will join Mr. Ruhullah to add a different perspective and voice to the conversation.

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