Afghan MPs block divisive women’s rights law #WTFnews


Legislation was approved by President Karzai in 2009, but stalled by conservative MPs who deemed it un-Islamic.

Last Modified: 18 May 2013 14:27

President Hamid Karzai approved the law by decree in 2009, but it needs parliamentary approval [Reuters]
Afghanistan’s parliament has failed to pass a law banning violence against women, a severe blow to progress made in women’s rights since the Taliban was toppled over a decade ago.

President Hamid Karzai approved the law by decree in 2009 and parliament’s endorsement was required. But a rift between conservative and more secular members of the assembly resulted in debate being deferred to a later date.

Religious members objected to at least eight articles in the legislation, including keeping the legal age for women to marry at 16, the existence of shelters for domestic abuse victims and the halving of the number of wives permitted to two.

“Today, the parliamentarians who oppose women’s development, women’s rights and the success of women…made their voices loud and clear,” Fawzia Koofi, head of parliament’s women’s commission, told Reuters on Saturday.

Women have won back the hard-fought right to education and work since the Taliban was toppled 12 years ago, but there are fears these freedoms could shrink once NATO-led forces leave Afghanistan by the end of next year.

Increasing insecurity is deterring some women from seeking work outside the home, and rights workers accuse the government of doing too little to protect women – allegations rejected by Karzai’s administration.

“2014 is coming, change is coming, and the future of women in this country is uncertain. A new president will come and if he doesn’t take women’s rights seriously he can change the decree,” Koofi said.

The election for a new president is expected to be held in April 2014. The constitution bars Karzai from running again.

‘Morally corrupt’

After almost two hours of clashes between Koofi and the more religious members of the 244-member parliament, speaker Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi said the assembly would consider the law again at a later date, but declined to say when.

Some members sought amendments, such as longer prison terms for crimes committed against women, such as beating and rape.

Many legislators, most of them male, cited violations of Islamic law.

“It is wrong that a woman and man cannot marry off their child until she is 16,” said Obaidullah Barekzai, a member from southeast Uruzgan province, where female literacy rates are among the lowest in the country.

An Afghan man must be at least 18 years old to marry.

Barekzai argued against all age limits for women, citing historical figure Hazrat Abu Bakr Siddiq, a close companion of the Prophet Muhammad, who married off his daughter at age seven.

At least eight other legislators, mostly from the Ulema Council, a government-appointed body of clerics, joined him in decrying the law as un-Islamic.

Abdul Sattar Khawasi, member for Kapisa province, called women’s shelters “morally corrupt”. Justice Minister Habibullah Ghaleb last year dismissed them as houses of “prostitution and immorality”, provoking fierce condemnation from women’s groups.

 

Karzai’s backing of strict Islamic code (that allows men to beat their wives)


  It is a giant step back for women’s rights in Afghanistan

  • Activists worried women’s rights being used as bargaining chip in negotiations with the Taliban
  • New code promotes segregation of the sexes

By DAMIEN GAYLE

Reversal: Afghan president Hamid Karzai has backed a strict code of conduct for women in the countryReversal: Afghan president Hamid Karzai has backed a strict code of conduct for women in the country

Activists have accused the Afghan president of reversing improvements in women’s rights after he endorsed a strict ‘code of conduct’ issued by clerics.

Hamid Karzai yesterday backed a document issued by the Ullema Council which promotes segregation of the sexes and allows husbands to beat wives in certain circumstances.

The move is seen as part of his attempts to reach out to the Taliban in the lead up to the planned withdrawal of Nato troops from the Afghanistan in 2014.

But activists are furious that gains made in women’s rights since the 2001 invasion and ensuing occupation are being used as a bargaining chip with Islamic extremists.

Prior to the 2001 U.S. invasion, girls were banned from going to school and women forced to wear burkas to conceal them from head to toe.

Women were also banned from venturing from their homes being escorted by a male relative.

Similarly, the new ‘code of conduct’ says women should not travel without a male companion and they should not mingle with men in places like schools, markets or offices.

Wife-beating is only prohibited if there is no ‘Shariah-compliant reason’, it said.

More…

 

Mr Karzai insisted the document was in keeping with Islam and did not restrict women.

‘It is the Shariah law of all Muslims and all Afghans,’ he added.

Unveiled: Young Afghan women in traditional clothing participate in a teachers graduation ceremony in March last yearUnveiled: Young Afghan women in traditional clothing participate in a teachers graduation ceremony in March last year

Women’s activists say the Afghan president’s endorsement of the code seems to imply that laws aimed at protecting women’s rights may be sacrificed for peace negotiations.

Heather Barr, an Afghanistan researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said: ‘It sends a really frightening message that women can expect to get sold out in this process.’

Rights: A woman with an ink-stained finger holds her ID card as she waits to vote in presidential elections at a Kabul polling station in 2009Rights: A woman with an ink-stained finger holds her ID card as she waits to vote in presidential elections at a Kabul polling station in 2009

Shukria Barikzai, a parliamentarian from the capital Kabul, who has been active in women’s issues, said she was worried that Mr Karzai and the clerics’ council appeared to be ignoring their country’s own laws.

‘When it comes to civil rights in Afghanistan, Karzai should respect the constitution,’ Ms Barikzai said. The Afghan constitution provides equal rights for men and women.

The exception for certain types of beatings also appears to contradict Afghan law that prohibits spousal abuse.

The guidelines also promote rules on divorce that give women few rights, a U-turn from pledges by Mr Karzai to reform Afghan family law to make divorces more equitable, Ms Barr said.

‘This represents a significant change in his message on women’s rights,’ she said.

Afghan women’s rights activist Fatana Ishaq Gailani, founder of the Afghanistan Women’s Council, said she feels like women’s rights are being used as part of a political game.

‘We want the correct Islam, not the Islam of politics,’ Ms Gailani said.

She said she supported negotiations with the Taliban, but that Afghanistan’s women should not be sacrificed for that end.

Restrictions: Afghan women pictured in 2001 wearing the burka. Activists worry advances in women's rights could be bargained away by the governmentRestrictions: Afghan women pictured in 2001 wearing the burka. Activists worry advances in women’s rights could be bargained away by the government

Hadi Marifat of the Afghanistan Human Rights and Democracy Organisation, which surveyed 5,000 Afghan women for a recent report on the state of women’s rights in Afghanistan, said the statements show Mr Karzai is shifting toward the strictest interpretations of Shariah law.

‘In the post-Taliban Afghanistan, the guiding principle of president Karzai regarding women’s rights has been attracting funding from the international community on one hand, balanced against the need to get the support of the Ullema Council and other traditionalists on the other,’ Ms Marifat said.

‘The concerning thing is that now this balance is shifting toward the conservative element, and that was obvious in his statement.’

 

Afghanistan: Hundreds Of Women, Girls Jailed For ‘Moral Crimes’


Kabul – The Afghan government should release the approximately 400 women and girls imprisoned in Afghanistan for “moral crimes,” Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. The United States and other donor countries should press the Afghan government under President Hamid Karzai to end the wrongful imprisonment of women and girls who are crime victims rather than criminals.

The 120-page report, “‘I Had to Run Away’: Women and Girls Imprisoned for ‘Moral Crimes’ in Afghanistan,” is based on 58 interviews conducted in three prisons and three juvenile detention facilities with women and girls accused of “moral crimes.” Almost all girls in juvenile detention in Afghanistan had been arrested for “moral crimes,” while about half of women in Afghan prisons were arrested on these charges. These “crimes” usually involve flight from unlawful forced marriage or domestic violence. Some women and girls have been convicted of zina, sex outside of marriage, after being raped or forced into prostitution.

“It is shocking that 10 years after the overthrow of the Taliban, women and girls are still imprisoned for running away from domestic violence or forced marriage,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “No one should be locked up for fleeing a dangerous situation even if it’s at home. President Karzai and Afghanistan’s allies should act decisively to end this abusive and discriminatory practice.”

The fall of the Taliban government in 2001 promised a new era ofwomen’s rights. Significant improvements have occurred in education, maternal mortality, employment, and the role of women in public life and governance. Yet the imprisonment of women and girls for “moral crimes” is just one sign of the difficult present and worrying future faced by Afghan women and girls as the international community moves to decrease substantially its commitments in Afghanistan.

Human Rights Watch interviewed many girls who had been arrested after they fled a forced marriage and women who had fled abusive husbands and relatives. Some women interviewed by Human Rights Watch had gone to the police in dire need of help, only to be arrested instead.

“Running away,” or fleeing home without permission, is not a crime under the Afghan criminal code, but the Afghan Supreme Court has instructed its judges to treat women and girls who flee as criminals. Zina is a crime under Afghan law, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Women and girls interviewed by Human Rights Watch described abuses including forced and underage marriage, beatings, stabbings, burnings, rapes, forced prostitution, kidnapping, and murder threats. Virtually none of the cases had led even to an investigation of the abuse, let alone prosecution or punishment.

One woman, Parwana S. (not her real name), 19, told Human Rights Watch how she was convicted of “running away” after fleeing a husband and mother-in-law who beat her: “I will try to become independent and divorce him. I hate the word ‘husband.’ My liver is totally black from my husband… If I knew about prison and everything [that would happen to me] I would have just jumped into the river and committed suicide.”

Human Rights Watch said that women and girls accused of “moral crimes” face a justice system stacked against them at every stage. Police arrest them solely on a complaint of a husband or relative. Prosecutors ignore evidence that supports women’s assertions of innocence. Judges often convict solely on the basis of “confessions” given in the absence of lawyers and “signed” without having been read to women who cannot read or write. After conviction, women routinely face long prison sentences, in some cases more than 10 years.

Afghanistan’s 2009 Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women makes violence against women a criminal offense. But the same police, prosecutors, and judges who work zealously to lock up women accused of “moral crimes” often ignore evidence of abuse against the accused women, Human Rights Watch said.

“Courts send women to prison for dubious ‘crimes’ while the real criminals – their abusers –walk free,” Roth said. “Even the most horrific abuses suffered by women seem to elicit nothing more than a shrug from prosecutors, despite laws criminalizing violence against women.”

Abusive prosecution of “moral crimes” is important to far more than the approximately 400 women and girls in prison or pretrial detention, Human Rights Watch said. Every time a woman or girl flees a forced marriage or domestic violence only to end up behind bars, it sends a clear message to others enduring abuse that seeking help from the government is likely to result in punishment, not rescue.

The plight of women facing domestic violence is made still worse by archaic divorce laws that permit a man simply to declare himself divorced, while making it extremely difficult for a woman to obtain a divorce, Human Rights Watch said. The Afghan government made a commitment to reform these laws in 2007 under its National Action Plan for Women in Afghanistan, and a committee of experts drafted a new Family Law that would improve the rights of women. This new law, however, has been on hold with the government since 2010, with no sign of movement toward passage.

“It is long past time for Afghanistan to act on its promises to overhaul laws that make Afghan women second-class citizens,” Roth said. “Laws that force women to endure abuse by denying them the right to divorce are not only outdated but cruel.”

By maintaining discriminatory laws on the books, and by failing to address due process and fair trial violations in “moral crimes” cases, Afghanistan is in violation of its obligations under international human rights law. United Nations expert bodies and special rapporteurs have called for the repeal of Afghanistan’s “moral crimes” laws. The UN special rapporteur on violence against women has called on Afghanistan to “abolish laws, including those related to zina, that discriminate against women and girls and lead to their imprisonment and cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment.” The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has urged Afghanistan to “[r]emove so-called moral offences as a crime and release children detained on this basis.”

“The Afghan government and its international partners should act urgently to protect women’s rights and to ensure there is no backsliding,” Roth said. “President Karzai, the United States, and others should finally make good on the bold promises they made to Afghan women a decade ago by ending imprisonment for ‘moral crimes,’ and actually implementing their stated commitment to support women’s rights.”

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