Issue 9, May 2009
|Women in Afghanistan|
For some time, Afghanistan has been drawing headlines worldwide on the subject of women’s rights. Repressive policies toward women put in place by the Taliban in the 1990s, mixed with famine, drought, and the economic, social, and political collapse of the country caused by decades of war have created a perfect storm for all Afghan citizens – especially women. Recent headlines have brought the subject of women’s rights to the forefront again.
On April 15, 2009, approximately 300 women marched in Kabul to protest the passage of a new family code approved by the Afghani Parliament. They were attacked by counter-protestors shouting misogynistic epithets and hurling stones. The demonstrations came on the heels of the assassination of Sitar Achakzai, a prominent women’s rights activist and member of the Kandahar Provincial Council. Achakzai had been a leader of a recent nation-wide strike by women in recognition of International Women’s Day. The Taliban took responsibility for her killing.
The Kabul demonstrators were reacting to the new Shia Personal Status Law, passed in April by the legislature and signed into law by President Hamid Karzai.
This new law allows Afghanistan’s Shi’ite minority (10-15% of the total population) their own family law code, which would only apply to Shi’ite Afghani citizens. Some of its provisions that have sparked protest and condemnation include:
A few of the Code’s provisions are an improvement on existing rights for Shia women, in that:
The creation of laws targeting citizens of a specific religious group, let alone singling out women, is in contradiction to Afghanistan’s governing constitution. Female members of Parliament have said the law was rushed through without proper review. Although Karzai signed the bill, it is currently under review by the Ministry of Justice.
Human rights advocates fear, however, that Karzai’s action on this matter is an indication of the current government’s weakness and the Taliban’s gaining strength.