As barbaric as it gets: Men can starve wives

As barbaric as it gets: Men can starve wives

 A new law passed by the Afghan government is bound to bring more heartburns to the women in the war-ravaged country.

Bowing to international pressure and unprecedented protests by hundreds of women on the streets of Kabul, the Afghan government promised in April to review a new law imposing severe restrictions on women in Shiite Muslim families.

Last week, though, Human Rights Watch discovered that a revised version of the Shiite Personal Status Law had been quietly put into effect at the end of July — meaning that Shiite men in Afghanistan now have the legal right to starve their wives if their sexual demands are not met and that Shiite women must obtain permission from their husbands to even leave their houses, “except in extreme circumstances.”

In June, some Afghan Shiite women signed a petition in support of a new law placing restrictions on them that human rights activists and Western leaders had opposed.
The new law was signed by President Hamid Karzai, who was depending on support from Sheik Muhammad Asif Mohseni, the country’s most powerful Shiite cleric, in the presidential election. Shiites, who were oppressed by the Sunni-led Taliban government, are believed to make up between 10 and 20 per cent of Afghanistan’s population. Sheik Mohseni and scholars close to him were allowed to write the first draft of the new law, and he was reportedly unhappy that Parliament had introduced a provision that banned men from marrying girls under the age of 16.

When the law was first approved, President Barack Obama called it “abhorrent,” but has not yet responded to reports that it has now been revised and put into effect.

In April, Al Jazeera visited Kabul’s main Shiite mosque to record Sheik Mohseni expressing his displeasure at the controversy over the law, and reporters from the news station spoke with some Shiite women who endorsed it:

Days later, my colleague Abdul Waheed Wafa shot a video of women gathered outside the mosque and a madrasa run by Sheik Asif Mohseni to protest the law in the face of the taunts of a larger group of men who supported it

More discrimination

Although the law applies only to Shiites, Soraya Sobhrang, commissioner for women’s rights at the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, said in April that it could influence a proposed family law for the Sunni majority and a draft law on violence against women. She told The Times in April, “This opens the way for more discrimination.”

According to Human Rights Watch, the new law also “grants guardianship of children exclusively to their fathers and grandfathers” and “effectively allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by paying ‘blood money’ to a girl who was injured when he raped her.”

Brad Adams, the Asia director for the human rights group, said that President Karzai “has made an unthinkable deal to sell Afghan women out in return for the support of fundamentalists in the August 20 election.” The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission in Kabul took a less dim view, calling the fact that the law was amended at all, “a step forward.”

Jerome Starkey explained in The Independent why support from Shiite leaders was so important to Karzai.

Most of Afghanistan’s Shias are ethnic Hazaras. They are Afghanistan’s third largest ethnic group, with about six million people, and like most Afghans, they vote according to orders from community leaders. With a roughly 50-50 split between Afghanistan’s southern Pashtuns and the rest of the country, the Hazaras are seen as the kingmakers.

Women participation

In some urban areas, Afghan women have managed to take part in the country’s post-Taliban government. A BBC video reported from Herat on the work of the city’s first female prosecutor, Maria Bashir. Bashir is Herat’s top law-enforcement official, but, because of threats, she is surrounded by armed guards, and her children are unable to leave their home to go to school.

The profile of Bashir is part of a longer report on women struggling for the rights Afghanistan’s Constitution promises them.

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