4.24.2009

Karzai, Afghanistan & Women's Rights

by Melissa Mahfouz
Special to iVoryTowerz

A few years after 9-11, Afghan President Hamid Karzai had been gaining credibility. His efforts to combat the Taliban and the opium trade, while dealing with neighboring Pakistan, were unprecedented. Yet, with the recent signing of a new Afghan law, Karzai’s respectability and credibility are reduced to nothing more than fragments, and further animosity between the Sunni government and Shi’a (or Shi'i) minority has come to fruition. Is this part of the Karzai administration’s divide and conquer tactics, to marginalize and disengage the Shi’a voice in Afghanistan?


As a caveat, this is not an attack on Afghan political culture, but rather the direction in which it is heading.

The premise of the controversial legislation that Karzai signed is primitive at best. Under the direction of the Afghan Parliament and the behind-the-scenes influence Shi’a cleric Ayatollah Asif Mohseni, Karzai signed a three-part bill severely limiting the rights of women. The law, applicable only to Shi’a Afghans calls for: 1) the right of the husband to coerce his wife into having sex every four days; 2) the requirement for women to obtain their husband’s permission to hold employment outside of the household; and 3) limitations for women who wish to wear make-up in public and leave the house without their husband. Although the law has yet to become public officially, the United Nations Development Fund has warned women about its contents. And thus the law has become the beacon of controversy and social uproar.

As Afghanistan has attempted to reach a level of development in education, poverty alleviation, and women’s rights, among others, this new law is certainly a setback. The bill is aimed at gaining the favor of the Ayatollah Mohseni to assist Karzai in the political spectrum, as the president is up for re-election. As has been customary for centuries, women are yet again being used as a political tool. Realistically, human rights groups will demand a public outcry on the basis of human rights abuses. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may yet verbally castigate the Karzai administration over this controversy. And the United Nations may take a similar course of action beyond its muted criticisms and alerting the human rights community. In the end, the law may not be affected, with miniscule, if any changes. (After women staged a bold protest in Kabul last week, Karzai asked his Interior Ministry to review the law's provisions again to see if it should be adjusted in any way.) This law is a litmus test for Afghan women to prove their strength. And we encourage you, sisters. I am not a raging feminist, but I am a human being, and this law is absurd. The law legalizes marital rape. Wow. Keep your voices yelling until they are hoarse, but do not be silent. We are with you at the virtual barricades.

(For similar postings, please see the series "The U.S. in Afghanistan & What the Afghans Want.")

(The photo of Aghan President Hamid Karzai is from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland from 2008; the photo is by Annette Boutellier of the World Economic Forum via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)











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