More than one million people around the world have signed a petition against a new law in Afghanistan on the grounds that it offers the perpetrators of violence against women de-facto immunity. Referred to as the “anti-women gag rule”, the law has been denounced as the culmination of a series of belligerent attempts by the conservative government to undo the momentum in women’s protection initiatives over the last decade. Yet in Kabul, there are few signs that the law was ever part of any such deliberate strategy, pointing towards the need for a more nuanced approach to the fault lines of gender politics at the dawn of post- NATO Afghanistan.
UPDATE: AFGHANISTAN’S NEW CRIMINAL PROCEDURE CODE REJECTED BY PRESIDENT KARZAI
Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) welcomes the news that the Afghan President Hamid Karzai has postponed the signing of the new criminal procedure code, passed by both houses of the Afghan parliament. Article 26 of the code would have effectively denied women protection from domestic violence and forced or child marriage, and would have given immunity to many perpetrators given its ban on relatives testifying against one another. Through his Cabinet, the President ordered changes to this article.
The Research Institute for Women Peace and Security (RIWPS) was formed by Afghan women activists after the first Consultative Peace Jirga in Afghanistan in 2010, based on a need for a specific organisation working on issues of women, peace, and security. RIWPS are committed to women's meaning participation in conflict resolution, conflict management, and their presence in peace processes.
This interesting brochure documents the work of RIWPS over the yaer 2013, you can read it by downloading the pdf.
The law would prohibit the justice system to question relatives of criminal defendants. It will deprive Afghan women and girls access to justice against relatives who commit domestic violence, forced them to marry or even sell them. Only the President can stop this law that has already been passed by the Parliament from being enforced, and he is due to sign it in the coming days.
A new Afghan law will allow men to attack their wives, children and sisters without fear of judicial punishment, undoing years of slow progress in tackling violence in a country blighted by so-called "honour" killings, forced marriage and vicious domestic abuse.
The small but significant change to Afghanistan's criminal prosecution code bans relatives of an accused person from testifying against them. Most violence against women in Afghanistan is within the family, so the law – passed by parliament but awaiting the signature of the president, Hamid Karzai – will effectively silence victims as well as most potential witnesses to their suffering.
Betrothal of girls is pervasive in Afghanistan. According to the Ministry of Public Healths Mortality Survey that was conducted in all provinces of the country in 2010, 53 percent of all women in the 25 to 49 age group were married by age 18, and 21 percent were married by age 15. A report on Child Marriage in Southern Asia conducted by the International Center for Research on Women, Australian Aid and UNFPA states that 57 percent of Afghan girls are married before they turn 16 and 60 to 80 percent of them were forced into such unions by their families.
As shown in this report the recorded statistics on violence against women during the first six months of the current year has reached a shocking number of 4154 cases.
This figure indicates an increase of nearly 25 percent compared to the number of violence against women recorded in the first six months of the previous year. However, this increase could be due to increased public confidence in the AIHRC’s offices, but can be caused by other factors such as increased violence against women and the public's distrust of judicial authorities as well.
In any way, this high figure of violence against women in the first half of this year is very shocking and a matter to be pondered upon. Especially when we see that over 30% of the figures are physical violence, especially beating, slapping, kicking and throwing stones, the issue becomes more and more worrying because physical violence against women is the naked (harsh) form of violence against women.
A couple of months ago I went back to my native Afghanistan after a year living in Britain. From the sedate surroundings of York University I've found myself back in bustling Kabul - back to the traffic jams, the construction projects and the crazy rush hour. Quite a change.
What has amazed me most upon my return is the massive difference between the realities of life at home and the way that Afghan women are more often than not portrayed in foreign media, which tends to focus on the sorrows, failures and victimised faces of Afghan women.