Critics said the draft regulation by the Ministry of Justice would hurt the limited progress made on women's rights since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, and appeared to be an overture to the Islamist insurgents waging war against NATO and Afghan forces.
The proposal, obtained by Reuters, would place all shelters under the control of the Ministry of Women's Affairs. It would require women to undergo a medical examination before being admitted, oblige them to wear a headscarf at all times and bar them from leaving the grounds of the safe house except with ministry permission to visit relatives. Medical examinations would be carried out monthly, and women would be ejected if their families say they will take them back or for marriage, the guidelines said, without clarifying if this included abusive families they had fled or forced marriages they were trying to avoid. "It puts the safety of women in shelters into question," warned Humi Safi of Afghan rights group Women for Afghan Women.
The regulation follows a government investigation ordered by Afghan President Hamid Karzai into the running of the mainly foreign-funded shelters, which some government officials have been quoted as saying are involved in prostitution and drug use. The accusations reflect widespread suspicion within Afghanistan's deeply conservative society over the influence of Westerners, particularly on women.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the draft illustrated the growing strength of conservative factions within Karzai's government and was an effort to burnish its Islamic credentials. HRW warned some of the 14 shelters currently working in Afghanistan faced closure because the government lacks the capacity to run them. "It could be devastating," HRW's Afghanistan researcher Rachel Reid said of the regulation, which requires approval by Karzai and his Council of Ministers to become law.
The government, Reid told Reuters, is trying "to position itself as something the Taliban can do business with." The Taliban barred women from education and most jobs and ordered them to wear burqas outside the home. Almost a decade since its overthrow, the United Nations said in a report last year that child marriage and "honor" killings remained widespread and the authorities were failing to enforce laws to protect women and girls.
Afghan women still face imprisonment for so-called "moral crimes" such as adultery or running away from home. The guidelines also said women suspected or accused of crimes would not be admitted to shelters, raising fears that women fleeing abusive situations could be barred on the grounds they were suspected of these "moral crimes."