Bordering Iran, which had one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks globally, Herat has one of the highest number of coronavirus cases in Afghanistan.
Herat has a higher than average population of educated women who speak up against gender-based violence.
Although seeking help is still an obstacle for victims and survivors of domestic violence, some women in Herat manage to get help from organizations which provide assistance and shelters to them.
25 year-old Marzia Akbar is part of a small group of female psychologists. Her team runs a covert counselling clinic at a local hospital in Herat province. Through meetings and domestic violence hotlines, Akbari and her team help victims of domestic abuse.
Herat’s stay-at-home order due to the pandemic, caused Akbari’s team to lose contact with most of their clients during the last three weeks. In her interview with The Guardian, Akbari expressed her fear for her clients. “I’m very scared for them, many women in Herat may survive coronavirus but won’t survive the lockdown.”
According to Akbari, violence has become part of many women’s lives in Herat. She believes this normalization of violence caused her work not to be taken seriously. The clinic where Akbari and her team were helping women turned into an isolation center for patients with coronavirus.
This made Akbari’s job even harder to connect with her clients. “We tried to relocate to another place but the only reason women could manage to reach us before was because the counselling center was based at the local hospital. Many of their families didn’t know these women were seeking counselling, they thought they were attending a medical appointment.” Akbari told the Guardian.
Before the stay-at-home order in Herat, Akbari had 50 clients per week, now she can barely make phone contact with 25 of those women.