Afghanistan: Women rights debate kicks up a political storm ahead of Afghan election

Nearly three years after the fall of the hard-line Islamic Taleban regime in Afghanistan, as millions of women prepare to vote in upcoming elections, even debating women’s rights remains an issue fraught with difficulty.
Abdul Latif Pedram, a French-speaking poet who returned from exile and is standing for president in the October 9 elections, kicked up a political storm earlier this month by calling for a debate over a woman’s right to call for a divorce.
Pedram’s comments aired repeatedly on state television in which he also suggested that polygamy should be outlawed because it was ”impossible” for a man to make four wives happy, have left him open to charges of blasphemy.

Polygamy justice – “against Sharia”

Afghanistan’s Supreme Court accused Pedram of blasphemy and called for him to be barred from the country’s first presidential election on October 9.

“He has said that with polygamy justice is not possible,” the head of the Supreme Court’s publication department Waheed Mujda told AFP.

Mujda said calling for a debate on women’s right to divorce was ”against Sharia.”

Islamic Sharia law gives the right to a Muslim man to marry up to four wives providing he can treat them equitably although women do not have the right to ask for divorce without their husband’s consent.

“Right after his speech was on TV there were lots of angry phone calls to the Chief Justice asking Pedram to be tried for blasphemy,” said Mujda.

The High Council of the Court sent letters to the government, the United Nations and the joint UN-Afghan electoral commission asking that Pedram be disqualified from running as a candidate in the presidential elections,” Mujda told AFP.

The electoral commission is examining the matter but thus far no action has been taken, a source close to the body said.

Woman is the victim …

Pedram claims the decision by the Supreme Court was a political sabotage and a plot by his enemies.

“This is a political sabotage against me by my political rivals at this crucial time ahead of elections,” Pedram told AFP.

“I have said nothing against Islam and this decision by the chief justice is against law and constitution,” he added.

The controversy highlights the cultural taboo of talking about marital politics in a country where few women are free to chose their own husbands or leave them even if they are abusive.

“Women here are locked up for wanting to remarry after they have been widowed, for leaving husbands who beat them and for refusing to marry the person their parents chose,” said Rachel Wareham, an aid worker with women’s rights charity Medica Modiale.

Wareham cited the example of one widow who was given a one-year jail sentence for wanting to remarry and who is appealing the case from jail.

“Most of these “crimes’ are not offenses under Islam or the penal code. The woman is the victim and the man should be prosecuted, but it never works out that way,” she said.