Afghanistan: Karzai accused of bid to 'legalise rape'
"It is one of the worst bills passed by the parliament this century," fumed Shinkai Karokhail, a woman MP who campaigned against the legislation. "It is totally against women's rights. This law makes women more vulnerable."
The law regulates personal matters like marriage, divorce, inheritance and sexual relations among Afghanistan's minority Shia community. "It's about votes," Ms Karokhail added. "Karzai is in a hurry to appease the Shia because the elections are on the way."
The provisions are reminiscent of the hardline Taliban regime, which banned women from leaving their homes without a male relative. But in a sign of Afghanistan's faltering steps towards gender equality, politicians who opposed it have been threatened.
"There are moderate views among the Shia, but unfortunately our MPs, the people who draft the laws, rely on extremists," Ms Karokhail said.
The bill lay dormant for more than a year, but in February it was rushed through parliament as President Karzai sought allies in a constitutional row over the upcoming election. Senator Humeira Namati claimed it wasn't even read out in the Upper House, let alone debated, before it was passed to the Supreme Court. "They accused me of being an unbeliever," she said.
Details of the law emerged after Mr Karzai was endorsed by Afghanistan's Supreme Court to stay in power until elections scheduled in August. Some MPs claimed President Karzai was under pressure from Iran, which maintains a close relationship with Afghanistan's Shias. The most controversial parts of the law deal explicitly with sexual relations. Article 132 requires women to obey their husband's sexual demands and stipulates that a man can expect to have sex with his wife at least "once every four nights" when travelling, unless they are ill. The law also gives men preferential inheritance rights, easier access to divorce, and priority in court.
A report by the United Nations Development Fund for Women, Unifem, warned: "Article 132 legalises the rape of a wife by her husband".
Most of Afghanistan's Shias are ethnic Hazaras, descended from Genghis Khan's Mongol army which swept through the entire region around 700 years ago. They are Afghanistan's third largest ethnic group, and potential kingmakers, because their leaders will likely back a mainstream candidate.
Even the law's sponsors admit Mr Karzai rushed it through to win their votes. Ustad Mohammad Akbari, a prominent Shia political leader, said: "It's electioneering. Most of the Hazara people are unhappy with Mr Karzai."
A British Embassy spokesman said diplomats had raised concerns "at a senior level".
31 March 2009
By Jerome Starkey
Source: The Independent
Afghanistan’s controversial Shiite Personal Status law will be among the topics discussed at an international conference organized by Rights & Democracy (the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development) in Kabul on Monday, April 6. The conference will focus on efforts in Muslim countries to reform family law according to a progressive interpretation of the Sharia in line with international commitments to protect the rights of women.
The conference will include presentations by leading women’s rights advocates from Malaysia, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan: Noura Mourat, Executive Director of Amnesty International Malaysia; Ashraf Gerami Zadehgan, Iranian women’s rights advocate and legal expert; and Ms. Shahnaaz Iqbal, women’s rights advocate from Pakistan. Remy M. Beauregard, Rights & Democracy’s President, will deliver the opening address.
News this week that Afghanistan’s Parliament has adopted a new law that drastically limits the rights of Shia women in marriage underscores the pressing need for this discussion. Respect for women’s rights in domestic life is an essential step toward the full and equal participation of Afghan women in their country’s democratic development. Reforming Afghan family law to reflect the constitutionally-recognized rights of women is thus a high priority for many Afghans. The conference aims to share lessons learned from the experience of working on Shiite Personal Status Law and explore similar efforts to protect the rights of Muslim women through the reform of family law in Pakistan, Iran, and Malaysia.
The yearly public event is Rights & Democracy’s second in the Afghan capital on the topic of family law reform and women’s rights in Muslim Countries. The conference is an important element of Rights & Democracy’s Rights in Practice: A Measure of Equality for Afghan Women project started in April 2007. This four year project funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) provides support for Afghan civil society in its efforts to establish a new and equitable family law and promote a national marriage contract that respects the rights of women. It is being implemented in the 6 provinces of Kabul, Kandahar Balk, Herat, Kunduz and Nangarhar by the all-Afghan staff of Rights & Democracy’s Kabul office.
Source: Rights and Democracy (www.dd-rd.ca/site/media/index.php?id=2970&subsection=news)
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