Afghan parliament fails to pass divisive women's law

KABUL Sat May 18, 2013 7:51am EDT

1 of 2. An Afghan woman in a burqa walks along a road on a windy day on the outskirts of Kabul April 16, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Mohammad Ismail

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KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's parliament failed to pass a law on Saturday banning violence against women, a severe blow to progress made in women's rights in the conservative Muslim country since the Islamist 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.

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 of the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law, which goes by the acronym EVAL.

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

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 lawmakers, most of them male, cited violations of Islamic, or Sharia 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 Mohammad, who married off his daughter at age seven.

At least eight other lawmakers, mostly from the Ulema Council, a government-appointed body of clerics, joined him in decrying the EVAL 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.

(Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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Comments (3)
AZreb wrote:
And we – our government – support and fund this black hole of a country! “Spreading democracy” is a sick joke on us, the taxpayers, and those in countries like Afghanistan that subject women to Sharia law. Is this what our troops have died for? Is this what we spent billions to support? Is this “democracy”?

May 18, 2013 10:17am EDT  --  Report as abuse
AZWarrior wrote:
Islam, the evil cult of repression, should be opposed in governments as racism was opposed by the world in South Africa. Theocracy is an oppressive form of government and will only result in inequality and suffering. The United States should not support such evil.

May 18, 2013 11:25am EDT  --  Report as abuse
BurnerJack wrote:
@AZreb: We fought the good fight. The people were given a chance for democracy, due process, etc. We cannot and should not force them to accept it. That fight is up to them. Freedom is only granted to those that reach for it.
AZWarrior: If you google a famous quote by Winston Churchill concerning Islam, you will find you and I are in good company in this regard. Whenever I can, I refer people to a GREAT book on Islam in Europe by European Parliamentarian Geert Wilders titled “Marked For Death”. A very well written and researched book about Islam both past and present. Not hysterical, not sensational, just matter-of-fact accounting, both historically and what is happening in present day Europe. Well worth reading. My favorite since Animal Farm.

May 18, 2013 6:15pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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