Karzai backtracks

// 15 August 2009

Bad news from Afghanistan: President Karzai looks to have backtracked on promises to review a law which would have legalised rape within marriage in the Shia community, among other provisions. An earlier version of the law triggered protests by hundreds of women in Kabul back in April, you might remember. It looks like the reports are all based on a final version of the legislation acquired by Human Rights Watch.

The Guardian reports:

Afghanistan has quietly passed a law permitting Shia men to deny their wives food and sustenance if they refuse to obey their husbands’ sexual demands, despite international outrage over an earlier version of the legislation which President Hamid Karzai had promised to review.

The new final draft of the legislation also grants guardianship of children exclusively to their fathers and grandfathers, and requires women to get permission from their husbands to work.

“It also effectively allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by paying ‘blood money’ to a girl who was injured when he raped her,” the US charity Human Rights Watch said.

In early April, Barack Obama and Gordon Brown joined an international chorus of condemnation when the Guardian revealed that the earlier version of the law legalised rape within marriage, according to the UN.

Although Karzai appeared to back down, activists say the revised version of the law still contains repressive measures and contradicts the Afghan constitution and international treaties signed by the country.

Islamic law experts and human rights activists say that although the language of the original law has been changed, many of the provisions that alarmed women’s rights groups remain, including this one: “Tamkeen is the readiness of the wife to submit to her husband’s reasonable sexual enjoyment, and her prohibition from going out of the house, except in extreme circumstances, without her husband’s permission. If any of the above provisions are not followed by the wife she is considered disobedient.”

If you want to help in solidarity with Afghan women, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan has a list of suggestions – right now they are asking for donations of digital cameras.

Madre also runs a survival fund for women activists:

The Fund supports an underground rescue network of women committed to providing shelter and secret transport to women who have been targeted because they dare to speak out for human rights.

The Fund provides cell phones to link partners in the rescue network, and covers costs of emergency medical care, food, shelter, local and international transportation, and clothing and other personal effects for women who are forced to escape quickly.

Also see this recent post on the Madre blog about the situation in Afghanistan for women.

Comments From You

Jennifer Drew // Posted 16 August 2009 at 10:53 am

To learn more about the realities of decades of western inteference in Afghanistan read either or both of these books. Raising My Voice by Malalai Joya and/or Bleeding Afghanistan by Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls.

Karzai is yet another of innumerable ‘puppets’ owned and financed by the US government and other western countries. He has capitulated to warlord demands. Western propaganda continuously invisibilises the realities of Afghanistani ordinary people’s oppression by western-backed criminals and puppets.

subrosa // Posted 16 August 2009 at 4:37 pm

As we all know our military are out there fighting in this ‘war’. What good are they doing if the Afghani politicians behave in this way? Are we sacrificing young lives for the ego of the US?

emma // Posted 17 August 2009 at 11:11 am

I want to know if we can organsie a national demonstration or go on hunger strike or something to show how angry we are at this betrayal of womens rights.

Ruairidh // Posted 17 August 2009 at 11:23 am

It’s a bit unfair on the west to pretend they’re behind everything. If anything on this issue their influence will be extremely positive.

The west got involved following the Soviet invasion in 1979 but so did the Muslim world in a separate but, at the time, complementary involvement. The west lost interest when the Soviets withdrew in 1989 but the Muslim world did not. What followed from 1989 to 2001 was a brutal civil war that the west took no interest in because with the cold war over Afghanistan was of no strategic interest and has no natural resources worth securing. The Muslim influence, specifically the Whabbi influence, carried on through this period and it was with Muslim world external backing that the Taliban rose to power. The west only took active interest again with the rising profile of Al Qaida and then 9/11. Karzai was the most moderate pro western they could find that the Afghan people could stomach. He has turned out to be a disappointment but he is after all a product of a deeply sexist culture. I think he’s been far too accommodating to Afghan warlords and criminals aas well but this has been his decision not the west’s. He is a western puppet to an extent (the collation chose him) but he is also a democratically elected leader and is answerable to his people. In this case I think he is responding to his electorate rather than his western backers. I don’t know about innumerable but he is the first US backed Afghan leader in history.

Interestingly the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was promoted by a revolt in the regions to a central secular communist and Soviet client government that was trying to impose things like land reform, religious freedom and women’s rights. The Russians pretended the government had invited them in to suppress the revolt but quickly took over. If that doesn’t tell you that the west isn’t responsible for the sexism of this country I don’t know what will.

sianmarie // Posted 17 August 2009 at 4:08 pm

this makes me so desperately sad. i agree if there is some way we can demonstrate and show our support for the women in afghanistan then i am there (or at least organising a complementary one in bristol)

Louise // Posted 18 August 2009 at 1:51 pm

I want to do something too. A fundraiser would be a good start, with some female bands (women singers were banned under the Taliban)

Ruairidh // Posted 18 August 2009 at 3:27 pm

Louise: The Taleban banned all performing and listening to music. They also banned cinema and TV. Musical instruments, TVs, tapes, videos etc were confiscated and destroyed as unislamic.

As a potential focal point for protest I’d suggest the Afghan Embassy in London. Lovely part of town, just along from the Albert Hall.


NYC womyn // Posted 25 August 2009 at 6:17 am

Dear Ruairidh,

That is not fair. The US has supported Karzai for over two terms now. Afghan women are not better off. Imperialism ALWAYS means grassroots people are worse off — i.e. women. We don’t have to sit and calculate if, or how much, we should capitulate to US forces. In the medium to long term, INDEPENDENT and SELF-DETERMINATION amoung Afghan women will ALWAYS be against medium to long term imperialist (UK & US) interests. If we love women, we will oppose our “own” governments. Let us send our money to RAWA and all independent Afghan women. Protest any taking away of self-determination by the subjects of empire… Blessings and solidarity all Sisters of Afghanistan and Iraq…

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