Afghan Women Protest in Kabul

16 04 2009

From The New York Times:

Yesterday (Wednesday), about 300 Afghan women marched the streets of Kabul in protest of a recent law that, among other things, legalizes marital rape.  Facing an angry throng three times their size, these women bravely and peacefully protested in the face of threats, verbal abuse, and stone-throwing from a huge group of angry Afghan men and women.

The protesting women demanded that Parliament repeal a law signed by President Karzai that (among imposing other restrictions on women) makes it illegal for a woman to refuse her husband’s sexual advances, requires a husband’s permission for a woman to work outside of the home or go to school, makes it illegal for a woman to refuse to dress up or wear makeup if her husband wants her to do so, and restricts when a woman can leave her house.  Although women often treated as property by their husbands in Afghan culture, this law governmentally sanctions spousal abuse, rape, and female subordination to their male counterparts.

The law applies only to the Shiite minority, a group which had suffered immensely under Taliban rule.  It is suspected that President Karzai may have signed the law to gain approval of the Shiite clergy in the upcoming election.  But the signing of the law has put Karzai under intense international criticism.

President Karzai is supposedly responding to the international outcry by attempting to find ways to remove the most controversial parts of the law.  His spokesman, Homayun Hamidzada, claims that the law can still be tweaked because it has not yet been published in the official government register and is therefore not official yet.  Karzai has claimed that the Western media was misinformed about the law, and that the public outcry about the law’s injustices is due to this misinformation.  Karzai’s spokesman has refused to confirm that he signed the law in the first place.  Although Karzai has amended the law, many still claim that the law runs contrary to the Constitution, which recognizes equal rights for men and women.

“We have no doubt that whatever comes out of this process will be consistent with the rights provided for in the Constitution — equality and the protection of women,” Mr. Hamidzada said.  I probably don’t need to emphasize what a line of crap I think this is.  

The Shiite clergy seems to be claiming that these women are amateurs simply unable to understand Islamic law.  “It’s like if you are sick, you go to a doctor, not some amateur,” said one cleric, Mohammed Hussein Jafaari. “This law was approved by the scholars. It was passed by both houses of Parliament. It was signed by the president.”  Jafaari also claimed that the dispute is fueled by foreign influence on the country.  “We Afghans don’t want a bunch of NATO commanders and foreign ministers telling us what to do,” he claimed.

The fact that a law this horrid could be passed and backed by Afghan officials is an unfortunate reminder of the injustices that many Afghan women face daily.  The bravery that these women are exhibiting by standing up in the face of oppression is truly inspiring.



2 responses

18 04 2009

However clearly wrong this thing may seem to us westerners, I thing it should be approached much more carefully and with respect to these people’s beliefs.

You can’t argue with religious law in the same way you argue with civil law. They based their country on their faith and if they believe this is the right thing, we’re not in the position to tell them differently. I doubt they percieve it as a gender issue, it’s more a question of following or not following the religious rules.

I think what says the most about this is the fact there were women in the group that was against the protest. Isn’t it silly that we feel we should fight for these women, when they really don’t want what we want to give them? (not that they want to be raped, but they are willing to accept it because of their religious beliefs). It’s a textbook example of ethnocentrism if you ask me.

19 04 2009

Religion is always a tricky subject. I do think it’s fair to point out that the law is unjust. Yes, it is true that we must respect other peoples’ cultures, but also just not saying anything about it would be in a way condoning the law through our silence. It does say something that there were reportedly women involved in the group against the protest, but it says a lot that there were 300 Afghan women protesting the law. These women DO perceive it as a gender issue, and they are willing to stand up for what they believe in in the face of intimidation. Religion does not have to be a concrete set of laws that never change. I believe that religion too can be reworked in the pursuit of human rights. There are also many people who do not believe that the tactics used by some religious leaders in Afghanistan are a valid interpretation of Islam. People in Afghanistan don’t all share the same beliefs, so we can’t say that these women “don’t want what we want to give them.” There are moderate views among the Shia, as there are among any group. When you claim that “they believe this is the right thing” and that “we’re not in the position to tell them differently,” the statements seem to assume that everyone in Afghanistan supports these laws. There is controversy about this law in Afghanistan and around the world. Also, check out some of the photos of the protest and the counter-protest. The two crowds were obviously not gender-balanced. So yes, there were reported to be women in the counter-protest. But how many do you see?

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