Afghanistan: Women's groups protest new laws
"In this law, women specially Afghan Shi’ite women will be limited severely. This law affects 20% of Afghanistan’s citizens and increases men’s power in the family and greatly reduces women’s human rights. Article 133 of this law allows men to decide on their wives employment and in another bill women are not allowed to leave home without their husbands permission unless there is an emergency. The legal age of marriage for Shiite girls decreases from 18 to 16 in this law, and "marital rape", which is in contravention of human rights and The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), was announced as legal and is a cause of oppression towards Afghan’s women.
"President Karzai stated that this law has been misunderstood! Our question is this what our we suppose to understand besides sexual slavery from this law? Is it not obvious that the respect and human rights of women have been forgotten and the sole purpose of women has been reduced to providing a sexual service for men?
"Unfortunately, most of these discriminatory laws which are being considered for Shiite Afghan women in the new family law, exist more or less in Iran’s Family law. However, fortunately with the equality movement in Iran the anti-women laws are being challenged. If you have been following our struggle you would be aware that last year a new law, the "Family protection Bill", was proposed and was challenged and condemned by all. Although we managed to throw the Bill out of parliament this does not mean we have nullified all the anti-women bills in our country.
"We have to be vigilant against that such laws that have a negative effects in society and also increases violence against Shiite women do not spread to laws for Sunni women and that other religions don't follow suit. We congratulate you the Shiite and Sunni women are united in your struggle to defeat the anti-women law. No doubt your courage and united struggle has given us the courage to stand up and support your struggle.
"We welcome president Karzai’s statement on reviewing this law and we hope the reform of this law will benefit all women regardless of their religion or ethnicity and will contain resolutions for equality, anti-violence, justice and humanity.
The statement has been issued by the following groups:
Focus on Iranian Women
The Feminist School
Women’s Field (Meydaan)
Women’s Commission of Tahkim Vahdat (Strethening Unity )
Women’s Committee of Tahkim Vahdat Iranian Researchers’ Association
Committee of Human Rights Reporters
Health Activists Association (Talashgaran Salamat)
Farasoo Association (Tabriz)
14 April 2009
Source: The Feminist School
“Get out of here, you whores!” the men shouted. “Get out!”
The women scattered as the men moved in.
“We want our rights!” one of the women shouted, turning to face them. “We want equality!”
The women ran to the bus and dived inside as it rumbled away, with the men smashing the taillights and banging on the sides.
But the march continued anyway. About 300 Afghan women, facing an angry throng three times larger than their own, walked the streets of the capital on Wednesday to demand that Parliament repeal a new law that introduces a range of Taliban-like restrictions on women, and permits, among other things, marital rape.
It was an extraordinary scene. Women are mostly illiterate in this impoverished country, and they do not, generally speaking, enjoy anything near the freedom accorded to men. But there they were, most of them young, many in jeans, defying a threatening crowd and calling out slogans heavy with meaning.
With the Afghan police keeping the mob at bay, the women walked two miles to Parliament, where they delivered a petition calling for the law’s repeal.
“Whenever a man wants sex, we cannot refuse,” said Fatima Husseini, 26, one of the marchers. “It means a woman is a kind of property, to be used by the man in any way that he wants.”
The law, approved by both houses of Parliament and signed by President Hamid Karzai, applies to the Shiite minority only. Women here and governments and rights groups abroad have protested three parts of the law especially.
One provision makes it illegal for a woman to resist her husband’s sexual advances. A second provision requires a husband’s permission for a woman to work outside the home or go to school. And a third makes it illegal for a woman to refuse to “make herself up” or “dress up” if that is what her husband wants.
The passage of the law has amounted to something of a historical irony. Afghan Shiites, who make up close to 20 percent of the population, suffered horrendously under the Taliban, who regarded them as apostates. Since 2001, the Shiites, particularly the Hazara minority, have been enjoying a renaissance.
President Karzai, who relies on vast support from the United States and other Western governments to stay in power, has come under intense international criticism for signing the bill into law. Many people here suspect that he did so to gain the favor of the Shiite clergy; Mr. Karzai is up for re-election this year. Previous Afghan governments, during the Soviet era and before the arrival of the Taliban, did not impose such restrictive laws, although in practice many rural women’s freedoms have long been curtailed. Rights advocates say the law for Shiites could influence a proposal for Sunnis and a draft law on violence against women.
Responding to the outcry, Mr. Karzai has begun looking for a way to remove the most controversial parts of the law. In an interview on Wednesday, his spokesman, Homayun Hamidzada, said that the legislation was not yet law because it had not been published in the government’s official register. That, Mr. Hamidzada said, means that it can still be changed. Mr. Karzai has asked his justice minister to look it over.
“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.
The women who protested Wednesday began their demonstration with what appeared to be a deliberately provocative act. They gathered in front of the School of the Last Prophet, a madrasa run by Ayatollah Asif Mohseni, the country’s most powerful Shiite cleric. He and the scholars around him played an important role in drafting the new law.
“We are here to campaign for our rights,” one woman said into a megaphone. Then the women held their banners aloft and began to chant.
The reaction was immediate. Hundreds of students from the madrasa, most but not all of them men, poured into the streets to confront the demonstrators.
“Death to the enemies of Islam!” the counterdemonstrators cried, encircling the women. “We want Islamic law!”
The women stared ahead and marched.
A phalanx of police officers, some of them women, held the crowds apart.
Afterward, when the demonstrators had left, one of the madrasa’s senior clerics came outside. Asked about the dispute, he said it was between professionals and nonprofessionals; that is, between the clerics, who understood the Koran and Islamic law, and the women calling for the law’s repeal who did not.
“It’s like if you are sick, you go to a doctor, not some amateur,” said the 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.”
The religious scholars, Mr. Jafaari conceded, were all men.
Lingering a while, Mr. Jafaari said that what was really driving the dispute was the foreigners who loomed so large over the country.
“We Afghans don’t want a bunch of NATO commanders and foreign ministers telling us what to do.”
15 April 2009
Source: The New York Times
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