Over 14,000 elders attend a tribal 'jirga' or gathering to hear a case in Farah province.
Tribal elders in the northern Afghan province of Badakshan tend to have the final say over if and when a woman may divorce her husband. In the province’s remote rural areas traditional `jirgas’ (councils of elders), which are known to favour keeping families together, resolve disputes, and sometimes violate women’s rights in the process.
Amina*, now aged 20 and with three children, who over the past seven years has made numerous attempts to get a divorce from her drug-addict husband, told IRIN her story:
“My father married another woman [Amina’s step-mother] and then opened a shop in Jurm District. While we were there, in Badakhshan, they made me marry a guy from Jurm District. I didn’t know him. My Dad did not know him either, but his step-brother was a close friend of my Dad’s. The guy was in Iran. He was using drugs there but we did not know this, and his brothers swore to us that he was not an addict. When he came back from Iran, we got married. He stopped using drugs for around two months.
“I was very young when I got married and my life was very bad. I would live with my husband for about three months, and then go and stay with my Dad for three to four months.
“For around 6-7 months I was living in my brother-in-law’s house. He was beating me but I was tolerating it. Then I went back to my Dad’s house and then again I went back to my husband’s house. At this time, most nights, my husband was missing from the home. I had no idea where he was going. One night I followed him - I found out that he was using drugs. After this, I went back to stay with my Dad again.
“Then my husband brought some tribal elders to talk to my Dad and they guaranteed that he [the husband] would stop using drugs. So, I went back. My husband went through lots of treatment. He went to Kabul and Mazar-i-Sherif for treatment but he was not cured.
“His relatives, the tribal elders, and his brothers asked me to give him another chance so he could go for treatment. I went back to my Dad’s home and waited for him to get cured - for my children’s sake. My husband went to Faizabad for treatment and after five months he escaped. The elders asked me to wait for four months and I waited for one year. Still he is not cured. So finally the tribal elders and his step-brother, upon my request, said that because I was so young and they did not want to keep me like this I could go ahead and ask for a divorce.
“My husband sold every single thing in my house. He sold the doors, the windows and the carpets in the house. Nothing remains. And he mortgaged the house to someone… The children are with my Dad.”
A female adviser handling Amina’s case, said: “If Amina had not accepted the tribal elders’ view and went to court from the beginning, the problem would not be as difficult as it is now for her because then she only had one child; now she has three. She would not have been so psychologically affected. It is very difficult here for a woman to raise three children without a father, and no income.”
*not her real name