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article imageAfghanistan's religious lawmakers block women's rights law

By Karl Gotthardt     May 19, 2013 in Politics
Kabul - A law on elimination of violence against women has been in effect in Afghanistan since 2009 by presidential decree. An effort to cement the law in the Afghan legislature with a vote, was blocked by religious leaders because it conflicts with Islamic law.
Although the law has been in effect by presidential decree since 2009, lawmaker Fawzia Kofi, a women’s rights activist, wanted to bring the law to a parliamentary vote. A vote for the law would prevent its potential reversal by any future president, tempted to repeal it, to satisfy hard-line religious parties.
Conservative religious lawmakers blocked the law on Saturday. Khalil Ahmad Shaheedzada a conservative lawmaker said that the legislation was withdrawn shortly after its introduction because it was considered un-Islamic, stating that whatever is against Islamic law we don't even need to speak about.
Hamid Karzai's decree of 2009, criminalizes child and forced marriage, and bans "baad," the traditional practice of exchanging girls and women to settle disputes. It makes domestic violence a crime punishable by up to three years in prison and specifies that rape victims should not face criminal charges for fornication or adultery.
The parliamentary debate highlights that in a country where Islamic/Sharia law runs hand in hand with civil and criminal law attitudes are hard to change. According to the National Post a UN analysis in late 2011 found that only a small percentage of crimes against women were pursued by the Afghan government.
Between March 2010 and March 2011 — the first full Afghan year the decree was in effect — prosecutors filed criminal charges in only 155 cases, or 7 per cent of the total number of crimes reported.
The debate became particularly heated around the issues of the child marriage ban and the idea of protecting female rape victims from prosecution. A conservative lawmaker, Nasirullah Sadiqizada Neli, suggested that removing that custom, common in Afghanistan, would lead to social chaos, with women engaging in extramarital sex, with the knowledge that if they claimed rape they would be exonerated. Adultery is a crime under Shariah law and it is mostly women that are prosecuted.
Another lawmaker, Mandavi Abdul Rahmani of Barlkh province, also opposed the law’s rape provision.
“Adultery itself is a crime in Islam, whether it is by force or not,” Rahmani said.
He said the Qur’an also makes clear that a husband has a right to beat a disobedient wife as a last resort, as long as she is not permanently harmed. “But in this law,” he said, “It says if a man beats his wife at all, he should be jailed for three months to three years.”
Religious lawmakers contend that the law would encourage disobedience among girls and women, a western value that is not applicable in Afghan society.
While women's rights and freedoms have improved incrementally since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, those rights remain conservative in application, highlighted by the small percentage of prosecutions in the first year.
Conservative lawmakers want the law amended or even repealed, stating that Hamid Karzai should not have issued the decree in first place.
“We cannot have an Islamic country with basically Western laws.”
The website "Violence Against Women in Afghanistan" state that 14 million women live in Afghanistan with a life expectancy of 45 years. The literacy rate among women is 12.6 percent and with one third of women engaged in economic activity the unemployment rate is 9.5 percent.
The Constitution of Afghanistan states that no laws can contravene sharia law, the holy law of Islam. Many violations of women’s rights in Afghanistan are also in violation of sharia law. In verse 124 of the Holy Koran, Al Nisa, it declares that “there is no distinction between male and female.” Verse 12 of the Holy Koran, Al Hujurat, also affirms the equality of men and women.
When it comes to rights and freedoms of women, it appears that Afghanistan has a long way to go. Based on the above quote, the Koran also affirms the equality of men and women, but practice is significantly different, as is the interpretation by some religious leaders. For now the law has been blocked, but Fawzia Kofi will continue her efforts to get a law passed. The fear is that any passed version will be watered down.
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