Afghanistan: No Honour in Shame
In the war against terror, women count for nothing. Hamid Karzai, in a spectacular volte-face on his supposedly moderate public position towards women in Afghanistan, has supported and ratified a barbaric law which catapults Shia Afghani women back to the Taliban era.
Human Rights Watch and the new law
Human Rights Watch reported today that they had seen a copy of the new law, in force from the end of July. No official announcements have been made about the law which conveniently has been passed days before Karzai is expected to win a second term in office. Contrary to Karzai’s promises to the UN and Western leaders in early April, when he vowed to review the proposed law and remove all discriminatory articles, the Western-backed Afghan President has allowed Taliban rule to return in all but name. HRW reports that the law gives a husband the right to withdraw basic maintenance from his wife, including food, if she refuses to obey his sexual demands. It grants guardianship of children exclusively to their fathers and grandfathers. It 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 UN position
The latest UNHCR Guidelines on Afghanistan reveal the unsurprising news that women continue to bear the brunt of the civil society’s “moral” code. Prosecuted for adultery when they have been raped, detained in sub-standard prisons allegedly for their own protection from honour killings and reportedly with up to 80% of women suffering domestic violence, Afghani women’s rights are being “curtailed, restricted and systematically violated”.
The reality for Afghan women
There are few women in public office in Afghanistan but those that dare to step out and speak up are easy prey. Sitara Achakzai, an Afghan women’s rights defender and member of the Kandahar provincial council, was killed outside her home. Gul Pecha and Abdul Aziz were both killed after being accused of immoral acts and condemned to death by a council of conservative clerics. Malai Kakar, the first woman police officer in Kandahar, who ran the police department responsible for investigating crimes against women in that city, was also killed. A 23 year-old Afghan journalist Perwiz Kambakhsh was sentenced to death for circulating an article about women’s rights under Islam, a sentence which later was commuted to 20 years’ imprisonment after strong international protest.
No honour in shame
Women are easy prey in the battle for men’s honour. But there is no honour in removing the basic human rights and dignity of half of a population. There is no civilisation when its women are trampled upon so that its men can beat their chests. Self-immolation is reportedly on the rise amongst Afghani women. Faced with a choice between life and death, many are choosing death over a life lived in fear, paralysis and shame. This remains a land where women are sold to pay a family’s debts, or where her rape and assault can be paid off by blood-money. This remains a land where women are systematically denied the right to education as girls’ schools continue to remain the subject of targeted attacks, both teachers and children. A huge international uproar rightly accompanied the Taliban’s wanton destruction of historical Buddha statues. Now, the international community, with its troops still in Afghanistan, must speak up for the living and accept no platitudes in the name of cultural norms. There is no honour in shame.
14th August 2009