Law Protecting Afghanistan Women Blocked By Conservatives
By KAY JOHNSON 05/18/13 08:03 AM ET EDT
KABUL, Afghanistan — Conservative religious lawmakers in Afghanistan blocked a law on Saturday that aims to protect women’s freedoms, with some arguing that parts of it violate Islamic principles or encourage women to have sex outside of marriage.
The failure highlights how tenuous women’s rights remain a dozen years after the ouster of the hard-line Taliban regime, whose strict interpretation of Islam kept Afghan women virtual prisoners in their homes.
Khalil Ahmad Shaheedzada, a conservative lawmaker for Herat province, said the legislation was withdrawn shortly after being introduced in parliament because of fierce opposition from religious parties who said parts of the law are un-Islamic.
“Whatever is against Islamic law, we don’t even need to speak about it,” Shaheedzada said.
The Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women has actually been in effect since 2009 by presidential decree. It is being brought before parliament now because lawmaker Fawzia Kofi, a women’s rights activist, wants to cement it with a parliamentary vote to prevent its reversal by any future president who might be tempted to repeal it to satisfy hard-line religious parties.
Among the law’s provisions are criminalizing child marriage and banning “baad,” the traditional practice of selling and buying women to settle disputes. It also criminalizes domestic violence and specifies that rape victims should not face criminal charges for fornication or adultery.
“We want to change this decree as a law and get the vote of parliamentarian for this law,” said Kofi, who is herself running for president in next year’s elections. “Unfortunately, there were some conservative elements who are opposing this law. What I am disappointed at is because there were also women who were opposing this law.”
Afghanistan’s parliament has more than 60 female lawmakers, mostly due to constitutional provisions reserving certain seats for women.
The child marriage ban and the idea of protecting female rape victims from prosecution were particularly heated subjects in Saturday’s parliamentary debate, said Nasirullah Sadiqizada Neli, a conservative lawmaker from Daykundi province.
Neli suggested that removing the custom – common in Afghanistan – of prosecuting raped women for adultery would lead to social chaos, with women freely engaging in extramarital sex safe in the knowledge they could claim rape if caught.
Lawmaker Shaheedzada also claimed that the law might encourage promiscuity among girls and women, saying it reflected Western values not applicable in Afghanistan.
“Even now in Afghanistan, women are running from their husbands. Girls are running from home,” Shaheedzada said. “Such laws give them these ideas.”
Freedoms for women are one of the most visible – and symbolic – changes in Afghanistan since 2001 U.S.-led campaign that toppled the Taliban regime. Aside from their support for al-Qaida leaders, the Taliban are probably most notorious for their harsh treatment of women under their severe interpretation of Islamic law.
For five years, the regime banned women from working and going to school, or even leaving home without a male relative. In public, all women were forced wear a head-to-toe burqa veil, which covers even the face with a mesh panel. Violators were publicly flogged or executed. Freeing women from such draconian laws lent a moral air to the Afghan war.
Since then, women’s freedoms have improved vastly, but Afghanistan remains a deeply conservative culture, especially in rural areas.
Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez contributed in Kabul.
This book was on my (huge) “Read Me” stack, and I picked it up for a change of pace. As I started reading, I wondered “how did this get there?” My first instinct was it was a recommendation from Little Diamond. As I was reading, however, I came across a segment that was what our priest had read in church around the Feast of the Epiphany about the birthplace of the wise men who came seeking the Christ Child after his birth. I wrote down the title and ordered it from amazon.com (which has some copies used from 72 cents).
William Dalrymple wrote this book when he was a mere 22 years old. He and a travelling companion took off to trace Marco Polo’s journey from Jerusalem to Xanadu, where he was taking oil from the sanctuary lamp to Kubla Khan.
In a world where we have all been taught to be so careful, they take incredible risks. They travel on the cheap – staying in fleabag hotels, sometimes sleeping “rough”, i.e. out in the open. They travel any way they can – an occasional train, but more often a truck, a bus, whatever is going their way. One very long segment they travelled on top of a pile of coal.
They travel from Jerusalem up through Syria and into Turkey, then turn east and cross Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan to China. They have some amazing adventures, see some astounding scenery and because of their mode of travel, have a lot of time to talk with their travelling companions or people in the cities where they are staying.
I am blown away that an unmarried couple would cross Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. I guess they told people they were married to share a room (they were on a budget) and they were only friends, not a couple, but what a risk. I am astonished that they were never asked to produce a marriage license or any proof of marriage when they stayed in hotels. I am astonished at the girls (one left in Lahore and another joined him, but these are girls who are friends, not anything more) would travel on the backs of trucks full of men, and never blink an eye.
The book is occasionally hilarious. Most of the hilarity results from foods they have to eat – sometimes it is the only food available – or from misunderstandings because of lack of a common language, or due to their frequent bouts of diarrhea, what I really liked about the author was that he was rarely pompous, and when he is funny, it is usually about some conversation he has had, or some mistake he has made.
One of my favorite parts of the book happens in Iran:
As we sat waiting for the bus to Tabriz, the next town on Marco Polo’s itinerary, we watched the mullahs speeding past in their sporty Renault 5s. Iran was proving far more complex than we had expected. A religious revolution in the twentieth century was a unique occurence, resulting in the first theocracy since the fall of the Dalai Lama in Tibet. Yet this revolution took place not in a poor banana republic, but in the richest and most sophisticated country in Asia. A group of clerics was trying to graft a mediaeval system of government and a pre-medieval way of thinking upon a country with a prosperous modern economy and a large and highly educated middle class. The posters in the bus station seemed to embody these contradictions. A frieze over the back wall of the shelter spoke out, in the name of Allah, against littering. On another wall two monumental pictures of the Ayatollah were capped with the inscriptions in both Persian and English:
BEING HYGENIC IS DIRECTLY RELATED ON THE MAN’S PERSONALITY
ALLAH COMMANDS THE RE-USE OF RENEWABLE RESOURCES.
We had expected anything of the Ayatollah. But hardly that he would turn out to be an enthusiastic ecologist.
The challenge of this journey is to follow as closely as possible the path Marco Polo took, but two segments of the journey go through off-limits areas. They find a way into one, to discover later it is an atomic testing area, and the second, at the very end, around Xanadu, they find receptive Chinese officers who take them to have a brief glimpse of the ruins of Xanadu while booting them out of the area. As they stand in Xanadu, they repeat a poem that every American child grows up with in English Literature:
In Zanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of gertile ground
With walls and twoers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills.
Where blossom’d many an incense-bearing tree:
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
I liked this book. Dalrymple is a history major, and often quotes from historical – even obscure – texts to illuminate what he observes. I think I may look at a couple more he has written since.