Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Kandahar's Sole Female Prosecutor
Zainab Fayez, the only woman serving as a prosecutor in Afghanistan’s southern province of Kandahar. (Photo courtesy of Z. Fayez)
Zainab Fayez, 26, holds a unique position in Kandahar: she is the only female prosecutor in the whole of the southern Afghan province.
A graduate from the Sharia faculty of Kabul university, she has been working in the elimination of violence against women department of Kandahar’s attorney general’s office for 18 months.
In the last year alone, she has resolved nearly 50 cases related to women. But Zainab says that this is just the tip of the iceberg, and the Afghan judicial system badly needs more female professionals.
A female prosecutor, she continued, was as important as a female doctor in helping women get their rights. Conservative traditions meant that it was very hard for many women to talk openly about their problems to a man.
“I have a special interest in serving women,” Zainab said. “I want to listen to their legal problems and share these with the relevant government authorities. In fact, lots of women in Kandahar have no information about their rights and in fact no idea what rights are.”
Many families within Kandahar’s conservative society are opposed to female education, let alone women working outside the home. Security is also very poor in many parts of the province is very poor, with soaring levels of unemployment.
The situation has been made worse by increased fighting, an economic slowdown since most coalition forces left in 2014 and a sharp rise in the number of returnees from Pakistan.
These security threats are a further deterrent to women taking up jobs in government departments, particularly in the field of justice.
Zainab said that it was clear local people disapproved of women working in public life, but said that as she had her own family’s support she would not let negative attitudes deter her.
Her gigantic workload includes issues such as child marriage, domestic violence, sexual assault and the denial of inheritance rights and access to education. Had there been more female prosecutors working with her, Zainab continued, the impact would be much higher.
Women she has helped bring cases to trial said that Zainab had been a godsend.
Pari Gula, a resident of Panjwai district, said that after suffering a decade of domestic violence she had finally approached the Kandahar attorney’s office for help. Having access to a female prosecutor meant that she was able to talk openly and frankly about all the trauma she had experienced.
“I’m very satisfied with this prosecutor who listened to my problems. May God bring peace and prosperity to our country so that we could have more prosecutors like Zainab,” she said.
Sabira, a resident of Kandahar’s Daman district, also sought help due to domestic violence.
“We can’t share our problems with men, so we want there to be more female staff at Kandahar’s attorney’s office to be able to listen to the problems of our oppressed sisters, just like us,” she concluded.
Ruqia Asakzai, director of Kandahar’s department of women’s affairs, said that Zainab was doing excellent work. Local women faced serious issues of gender-based violence, she continued.
“It’s such a great moment for us that we have a talented female prosecutor like Zainab in the judicial and justice sector,” Asakzai said. “Women can’t express their pains, problems and troubles to a male prosecutor, but they can easily share them with a female prosecutor.”
Asakzai called on central government to focus on this issue and increase the number of female officials across the justice system.
Male lawyers also called for more female colleagues to better serve the needs of the community.
Gul Ahmad Naeemi, working as a lawyer for the last two years in Kandahar, said that many women who sought his help had found it extremely difficult to tell him their stories.
“Although we help and cooperate with women in the justice sector, it would be far better if women’s played a much greater role in the judicial organs themselves,” he said.
Another Kandahar lawyer, Abdul Karim Wujdan, agreed it was highly unjust that women were not represented within the judicial system.
“The absence of female professionals, or the fact that there are just a few within government departments, means that we have deprived half our society of their rights.”
Fakhruddin Faeez, acting head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) in Kandahar province, also stressed that the presence of a single female prosecutor was woefully inadequate.
“We should have female prosecutors, judges and lawyers in Kandahar province - and they should hold senior posts and positions - because many women need to use all three sectors.”
Abdul Rahman Koshan, head of the provincial attorney’s office, acknowledged that there was a problem with the lack of female staff in the justice sectors.
He said that although there were some female prosecutors assigned to the Kandahar office they had been seconded to Kabul due to the precarious security situation.
Koshan said that he had written a number of times to the Kabul office arguing that the security situation in Kandahar had improved and that it was now safe for female prosecutors to work there.
He also said that they had advertised numerous jobs for female staff in the local media, as well as asking representatives of the Sharia and law faculties to recommend female graduates to their offices.
Local activist Zarmina Ahmadi argued that the government needed to incentivise female lawyers by offering them high salaries and associated benefits.
“In the absence of female [justice] officials, it’s almost impossible for our problems to be heard, let alone solved,” she said.
This report was produced under IWPR’s Supporting Investigative Reporting in Local Media and Strengthening Civil Society across Afghanistan initiative, funded by the British Embassy Kabul.
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