Sat Feb 19, 3:24 pm ET
KABUL (AFP) – President Hamid Karzai said Saturday his government did not plan to take control of all shelters for abused women in Afghanistan, in an apparent contradiction of a previous announcement.
Women’s affairs minister Husun Bano Ghazanfar said Tuesday that the government had proposed authorising officials to take over “all existing women’s shelters in Afghanistan.”
That prompted concerns from the United States and human rights groups, who said the move could put women in the shelters, currently run by rights groups and charities, at risk.
The safe houses are run by foreign and Afghan groups to protect women from domestic violence but some conservatives and clerics accuse them of being fronts for prostitution or set up to remove women from their families.
Karzai told a press conference Saturday that the problem was only with “one or two” shelters which he accused of corruption and “wastage.”
“Those shelters which have conducted themselves well, which are in accordance with the procedures established and who have good transparency with what they are doing will not only be kept but supported by the Afghan government,” he said.
“Those who are found in violation of the established standards and the rules and regulations will be taken over by the Afghan government.”
The US said Thursday it was “concerned” by the proposed changes and urged Afghanistan to support the work of women’s shelters.
“While we recognize that the government needs to monitor shelters, it is important that civil society be allowed to operate these facilities independently,” said Philip Crowley, assistant secretary of state for public affairs.
US-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said this week that it feared government-run shelters were more likely to yield to pressure from disgruntled families to hand back abused women to their families than independent ones.
And on Friday, the Afghan Women’s Network group issued an open letter and plea for the government plans to be reversed.
“On many occasions, government officials, pressured by influential people in society or political circles, have exposed the location of women seeking refuge or forced them to return to their families who punish them for trying to escape,” it said.