Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Afghan Women: Submission Law
When it's quite enough, I enjoy beginning my morning watching the sunrise and reading the paper. Since I start work at 5 in the morning, that ritual does not always happen with the frequent interruptions that are both appropriate and expected at work. This morning was unusually quite, however, so already read one paper and was reading the much smaller second paper (I live between two towns and take the paper for both) when I found an article describing a law that "allows minority Shiite Muslim husbands to refuse food and money to their wives if they deny them sex." Twenty percent of Afghans are Muslim. That's a lot of women to be affected by this ruling. A quick Internet search shows many people are alarmed by this law.
The argument previously came to a head in March, when Karzai signed an earlier version into law which required women to have sex with their husbands every three days "unless she was ill or would be harmed by intercourse". Critics denounced the ruling then as the equivalent of marital rape. That aspect was removed. However, this version continues to enrage activists, because men can starve their wives for refusing sex: "submit to her husband's reasonable sexual enjoyment". The post Taliban Constitution enshrines equal rights for women, but the current demonstration destroys those rights.
Karzai seeks to gain the conservative vote for elections, so just quietly sawed this into law. This week Karzai took advantage of a loop hole to pass his new law. A legislative recess gave opportunity for Karzai to sign it into law by decree. Unlike last spring, now there seems to be little response. While the law only affects Shiite women, the concern remains that now implemented, it will be easier to apply the law to all women. While passage of the law is deeply concerning, reports have it that a passage was deleted from the law preventing women from living the home only if it did not disturb marital relations! Unfortunately, the law can also be used to prevent women from working or studying. In addition the law gives guardianship of child exclusively to their fathers and grandfathers. Additionally, such a law will undercut the likelihood of current legislation passing a domestic violence law.
Female parliamentarians had thought they would get the opportunity to fight this bill before it could be made in law. Karzai's use of the loophole took them by surprise. The only positive seems to be that the law states that the man must provide financially for his wife. Nevertheless, it horrifies that we still have places where women are restricted from work and education, and compelled to provide sexual services. The immediate concern remains that this law may become "a step toward the Taliban's draconian treatment of women". While even one law like this anywhere in the world remains on the books, all women are wounded. These women are being treated as property.