Fri Aug 14th, 2009 at 07:27:32 PM EST
Human Rights Watch has discovered that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has allowed a regressive law to come into force that strips away women's rights that are enshrined in Afghanistan's constitution in order to win votes.
The law gives a husband the right to withdraw basic maintenance from his wife, including food, if she refuses to obey his sexual demands. It grants guardianship of children exclusively to their fathers and grandfathers. It requires women to get permission from their husbands to work. It also effectively allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by paying "blood money" to a girl who was injured when he raped her.
The law was written in secret by a hard-line Shia cleric and backed by conservative Shia members of the Afghan parliament in March. When the law was made public in April, there was a loud international outcry of protest. U.S. President Obama said the law was "abhorrent" and made U.S. objections known to the Afghan government.
Karzai responded to the condemnation with a promise to amend the law. He claimed, at the time, he mistakenly had signed the legislation into law without reading the 239-page bill.
The Guardian reports the amended law still diminishes women's rights:
Islamic law experts and human rights activists say that although the language of the original law has been changed, many of the provisions that alarmed women's rights groups remain, including this one: "Tamkeen is the readiness of the wife to submit to her husband's reasonable sexual enjoyment, and her prohibition from going out of the house, except in extreme circumstances, without her husband's permission. If any of the above provisions are not followed by the wife she is considered disobedient."
According to Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, this was done to help Karzai win votes in the upcoming election:
Karzai has made an unthinkable deal to sell Afghan women out in return for the support of fundamentalists in the August 20 election...
The rights of Afghan women are being ripped up by powerful men who are using women as pawns in maneuvers to gain power.... These kinds of barbaric laws were supposed to have been relegated to the past with the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, yet Karzai has revived them and given them his official stamp of approval.
News of the law "has not been widely disseminated" in Afghanistan, according to ABC News. "Today at a campaign rally, Frozan Fana, one of two women running to become Afghanistan's next president, said she didn't realize the law became enforceable."
Karzai has been unavailable for comment since the news broke in the West, according to Reuters. "Wahid Omar, a spokesman for Karzai's presidential campaign, said he could not comment on any decision Karzai had taken as the president. A presidential spokesman was not immediately available for comment on Friday, the national weekend."
The amended Shiite Personal Status Law "is meant to govern family law for minority Muslim Shi'ites, who make up about 15 percent of Afghanistan's roughly 30 million people, and is different to that for the majority Sunni population."
Meanwhile Afghan women running for parliament are being targeted for violence. McClatchy reports Afghan women must defy death threats to run for re-election.
Zaiba Habib Durrani has been threatened with death or having her face disfigured by acid if she continues her re-election campaign. Durrani is a 34-year-old surgeon and mother to four young daughters and pregnant with another child. She travels with an armed guard.
Durrani is fighting more than a political contest amid a surge in Taliban violence aimed at wrecking the vote.
She and the other female candidates also are battling ultraconservative interpretations of Islamic law and age-old customs that condemn most Afghan women to lives of abuse, ill health, illiteracy and impoverished servitude, lived out within walled compounds in the far-flung villages where more than 75 percent of Afghans live...
"Just for a woman to leave the house is a big struggle," Durrani said, sitting on the floor of her modest home, a white scarf enfolding her head and a black gown hiding her swollen belly. "There are people who want to prevent me from pursuing this path."
In July, the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights and the UN's Assistance Mission in Afghanistan released a report titled "Silence is Violence" (PDF). The report documented that Afghan women face an increasing insecurity in public spaces and the Afghan government is failing to protect women from violence. The report found:
Women participating in public life face threats, harassment and attacks. In extreme cases, women have been killed for holding jobs that are seen to disrespect traditional practices or are considered "un-Islamic."
There are numerous women who receive threatening phone calls ordering them to stop working or threatening harm to their children. Women also receive threatening `night letters', and are physically or verbally abused. As a result, women engage in self-censorship, restrict their movements, or discontinue their work. Threats and different forms of intimidation and attacks are harmful psychologically as well as physically. In addition to the women who are directly targeted, such violence also inhibits the participation of other women in development or political processes...
The pattern of attacks against women operating in the public sphere sends a strong message to all women to stay at home.
While to Karzai this may be only an election ploy to win some conservative votes, he, as leader of his country, is tacitly promoting a culture hostile to women. This is not progress in Afghanistan.
President Obama should not wait until after the August 20 Afghan elections to condemn this amended law stripping Afghan Shia women of their rights. Justice cannot wait. U.S. Secretary of State Clinton said the U.S. will work with the winner of the Afghan election, but "insist on a better performance from the Afghan government".
As Human Rights Watch, Abrams said: "Afghanistan's parliament should overturn this law, and its constitutional court should throw out provisions that violate the constitution and its international legal obligations."
Repealing or amending this "abhorrent law" should be a priority of the U.S. and any candidate who wins the Afghan presidential election. What is the point of fighting the Taliban and Islamic extremism in Afghanistan if the parliament and president make laws echoing ones they would have made themselves?
Cross-posted from Daily Kos.