Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from the Afghan Women’s Justice Project, written by Karen Day.
Last year, Care2 partnered with Afghan Women’s Justice Project to change history!
When we created the Care2 petition, none of us imagined our joint efforts would inspire an overwhelming response that made an unprecedented impact on women’s rights in the Islamic country.
It began when I wrote an article for Marie Claire magazine about the thousands of women and children imprisoned in Afghanistan for “moral crimes.” According to ancient Sharia Law, it only requires the accusation of two men to convict a woman of a crime and send her prison — or death. Her children are also sent to prison with her.
As a humanitarian journalist, I reported meeting girls as young as 11, convicted and sent to jail by male tribal members for baffling crimes like leaving home without a father’s or husband’s permission, running away from an abusive spouse or refusing to marry your rapist. The accused goes to prison without trial and with her children — or they may all face death.
To date, more than 103,000 people have signed the petition asking President Obama and President Karzai to end the cultural practice of incarcerating women and children without due process. Over 2000 readers made donations by purchasing NOT GUILTY t-shirts, raising $30,000 for Afghan non-profits that supply in-prison literacy teachers, medical services, kindergarten supplies and milk for the children.
Last march, AWJP presented their petition and a documentary film on the subject, IN-JUSTICE to the White House Office of Women’s and Girl’s Affairs. The film, directed by Clementine Malpas, exposes the tragic story of a twenty-year-old rape victim, Gulnaz, holding her new-born baby daughter and sentenced to jail for refusing to marry her rapist. (Go to www.awjp.org to view the film trailer and learn more.)
In December, news media finally followed Marie Claire’s lead and began focusing on Gulnaz’s case. Moral outrage grew to a global outpouring. One courageous attorney from the US, Kimberly Motley, stepped up and offered to represent the prisoner pro-bono. Motley’s expertise in International Rule of Law, coupled with public and political pressure, helped push for a review of Gulnaz’s conviction by President Karzai. The hundred-thousand-plus signatures on the AWJP petition were also presented to the President. In a historic moment, the Afghan President defied thousands of years of cultural tradition by granting Gulnaz and her child an unconditional pardon.
Today, the twenty-one-year-old mother and daughter are free and living in an Afghan safe house. Gulnaz hopes to become a seamstress. AWJP continues to support NGO’s , like Child Light Foundation, an American organization that provides traveling nurse-midwives and literacy teachers for the inmates, as well as purchasing baby-formula, powdered milk and school supplies. Progress also continues on a new computer lab inside the VOICE of WOMEN Herat Women’s Shelter. Upon release, many former prisoners are shunned by family and community, with no choice but street-begging without the shelter’s assistance.
Undoubtedly, public awareness has been heightened in the past year. Lawyers and human rights advocates continue to fight for justice. But the current viral and murderous video of the Taliban shooting a woman accused of adultery at point blank range illuminates the ghastly truth — after a decade of military intervention in Afghanistan, a trillion dollars and countless lives lost — Afghan women still lack the most basic human rights.
I can’t forget the story of one eighteen-year-old who recently arrived at a remote prison and immediately gave birth to a baby boy. The girl’s mother was there too. Both had run away after the father had raped and impregnated his daughter. The son then killed the father — and was in turn, sentenced to death. The baby boy died three days later, in prison. It’s an ongoing tragedy, played out in villages of rural Afghanistan every day. So what can YOU do?
First, realize that by comparison to the above atrocities, Gulnaz’s victory may appear a small step forward. Still, it’s the first step in establishing due process for all female prisoners. Readers like you made the difference!
Secondly, sign the AWJP Care2 petition. Pass it forward to friends. Our current goal is to accumulate 250,000 signatures to present to the White House Office of Women’s and Girl’s Affairs in September. Your participation changed history — and we can and will make a difference!
Third, the purchase of $25.00 NOT GUILTY t-shirt buys a week of milk for a kindergarten class. $100.00 pays a month’s salary for an in-prison literacy teacher or midwife.
As Motley wrote recently to me in e-mail, “Now, more than ever, Gulnaz needs support.” So do all the imprisoned Afghan women and children waiting for their day in court.
You can help support Gulnaz and other women and children in Afghan prisons convicted of moral crimes For more information, visit the Afghan Women’s Justice Project website.