In Afghanistan, there are essentially two legal systems that exist in parallel. One is the Kabul central government’s justice system which, despite years of funding from the US and the international coalition, is rife with corruption, widely discredited and virtually disregarded by the populace. The other track is built around traditional legal practices, including ba’ad, and the cases are heard by local, tribal courts.

The United States and the international community have recently begun working with these tribal courts after multiple surveys indicated that up to 90 percent of criminal and civil complaints end up in this informal justice system. Critics say these tribal courts have grounding in neither constitutional nor Islamic law, and that international efforts to support and reform them only legitimize an inherently misogynistic legal framework.

The structure of these courts is so completely dominated by men that the only way a woman can access them is through a male family member, who in many cases is the very tormentor she wants to complain about, as was the case with Sakina.

“This is very worrisome,” said Latifa Sultani, Coordinator for Women’s Protection with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC). “Tribal courts will never allow justice for a female victim.”

But these courts are, for now, a main focus of US efforts to improve access to justice for the citizens of Afghanistan. Faced with the exploding corruption and slow pace of reform in the state courts, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has turned its attention to these local structures.

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