Karzai Makes Mockery of Democracy

USA, Hamid Karzai, and his Parliament dominated by warlords have created a mockery of democracy in Afghanistan. It has come down to Karzai pushing this law for the Shia minority which will deny women a right to refuse sex with husbands, among other traditional privileges granted males to enforce male power over women. After the news got out, and Karzai got admonished by Hillary Clinton and other outraged leaders, he trumpets the law is being misinterpreted, then he says he will have it thoroughly reviewed. He deserves no credibility. RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) News documents some offensive sections of the new law in Sharia for Shias: ‘Legalised rape’. For instance,

Article 132
(3) The couple should not commit acts that create hatred and bitterness in their relationship, The wife is bound to preen for her husband, as and when he desires.
(4) The husband, except when travelling or ill, is bound to have intercourse with his wife every night in four nights. The wife is bound to give a positive response to the sexual desires of her husband.

I cannot find the expressions of shock and outrage from world leaders credible. As if they knew nothing of what was afoot? This law was briefly debated in the Parliament, then railroaded through by Karzai as a political stunt. Those who act so shocked that Karzai, alleged ally, would jump at a chance to subordinate women if he thought it could get him a political edge, ought to read RAWA news, or some horror stories in the war news section of this blog. The indifference of the Karzai regime to the rights and safety of women is notorious. The article in the Guardian, ‘Worse than the Taliban’ – new law rolls back rights for Afghan women, also posted at RAWA News, as well as the New York Times in Karzai Vows to Review Family Law, quote Soraya Sobhrang, head of women’s affairs at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, who had worked on this bill for two years. She decried the lack of protest from the international community while the law was debated in the legislature.

‘Worse than the Taliban’ – new law rolls back rights for Afghan women
Jon Boone in Kabul
The Guardian, Tuesday 31 March 2009

Hamid Karzai has been accused of trying to win votes in Afghanistan’s presidential election by backing a law the UN says legalises rape within marriage and bans wives from stepping outside their homes without their husbands’ permission.

The Afghan president signed the law earlier this month, despite condemnation by human rights activists and some MPs that it flouts the constitution’s equal rights provisions.

The final document has not been published, but the law is believed to contain articles that rule women cannot leave the house without their husbands’ permission, that they can only seek work, education or visit the doctor with their husbands’ permission, and that they cannot refuse their husband sex.

A briefing document prepared by the United Nations Development Fund for Women also warns that the law grants custody of children to fathers and grandfathers only.

Senator Humaira Namati, a member of the upper house of the Afghan parliament, said the law was “worse than during the Taliban”. “Anyone who spoke out was accused of being against Islam,” she said.

The Afghan constitution allows for Shias, who are thought to represent about 10% of the population, to have a separate family law based on traditional Shia jurisprudence. But the constitution and various international treaties signed by Afghanistan guarantee equal rights for women.

Shinkai Zahine Karokhail, like other female parliamentarians, complained that after an initial deal the law was passed with unprecedented speed and limited debate. “They wanted to pass it almost like a secret negotiation,” she said. “There were lots of things that we wanted to change, but they didn’t want to discuss it because Karzai wants to please the Shia before the election.”

The international community has so far shied away from publicly questioning such a politically sensitive issue.

“It is going to be tricky to change because it gets us into territory of being accused of not respecting Afghan culture, which is always difficult,” a western diplomat in Kabul admitted.

Soraya Sobhrang, the head of women’s affairs at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said western silence had been “disastrous for women’s rights in Afghanistan”.

“What the international community has done is really shameful. If they had got more involved in the process when it was discussed in parliament we could have stopped it. Because of the election I am not sure we can change it now. It’s too late for that.”

But another senior western diplomat said foreign embassies would intervene when the law is finally published.

Some female politicians have taken a more pragmatic stance, saying their fight in parliament’s lower house succeeded in improving the law, including raising the original proposed marriage age of girls from nine to 16 and removing completely provisions for temporary marriages.

“It’s not really 100% perfect, but compared to the earlier drafts it’s a huge improvement,” said Shukria Barakzai, an MP. “Before this was passed family issues were decided by customary law, so this is a big improvement.”

Karzai’s spokesman declined to comment on the new law.

From the New York Times article:

The law also outlines rules on divorce, child custody and marriage, all in ways that discriminate against women, said Soraya Sobhrang, commissioner for women’s rights at the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.

While the law applies only to Shiites, who represent approximately 10 percent of the population, its passage could influence a proposed family law for the Sunni majority and a draft law on violence against women, Ms. Sobhrang said. “This opens the way for more discrimination,” she said.

The United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, said the law represented a “huge step in the wrong direction.”

“For a new law in 2009 to target women in this way is extraordinary, reprehensible and reminiscent of the decrees made by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the 1990s,” Ms. Pillay said in a statement posted on her agency’s Web site. “This is another clear indication that the human rights situation in Afghanistan is getting worse, not better.”

In addition to the clauses on when women may leave the home and must submit to their husbands, Ms. Pillay said she was concerned about a section that forbids women from working or receiving education without their husband‘s permission.

Ms. Sobhrang, who has been working on the issue for the last two years, said women’s groups and the human rights commissions had worked with Parliament to introduce amendments but then the law was suddenly pushed through with only three amendments. The bill as originally drawn up by Shiite clerics barred a woman from leaving the house without her husband’s permission, she said. The parliamentary judicial commission amended that provision to say that a woman could leave the house “for a legitimate purpose.”

Mr. Karzai cited that provision in a news conference on Saturday, pointing out that the final version of the law did not ban a woman from leaving her house. But Ms. Sobhrang said even as amended the law contravened the Constitution, which recognizes equal rights for men and women. The term “for a legitimate purpose” was open to interpretation, she added.

What is the Afghan government doing, writing an unconstitutional law for a religious minority? Why is Karzai pushing this, just to win reelection? Karzai is a major embarrassment, but what would one expect from a puppet dancing to the strings of Bush and company, who certainly did not give a hoot about rights for women, except as an excuse to justify the war. Are Karzai and the Parliament not making a statement with this law, a way of asserting their independence, daring USA to do something about it?

Obama says America did not choose to fight this war. The people were given no choice. Making Afghanistan pay was the hook, though that nation had only provided shelter to mostly Saudis giving their lives to make USA pay, for maintaining a military base on their holy ground, for instance. Afghanistan was chosen as the scapegoat because Osama bin Laden and company ran warrior schools there. He was an ally against the Soviet Union, and some historians credit that struggle with forcing the collapse of that empire. It was the Vietnam War analogue for Soviet Union, and promises to repeat the lesson for Obama, who is naive or complicit enough to promulgate this fantasy of securing Afghanistan to deny the terrorists a safe haven.

Obama has reservations about Karzai, and has also denounced the new law, but regardless, this mockery of a democracy, created as a corporate friendly shell regime to facilitate the businesses of fossil fuel pipelines and opium, is what Obama is committing to prop up as the cause that could not be more just. USA may not be in a position to tell Karzai to scrap the law, but USA can withdraw support for Karzai, which would probably mean his assassination. His life is worth nothing without protection, getting the fitting nickname Mayor of Kabul. USA has no business trying to occupy Afghanistan or Iraq, and this alacrity to sign away rights for women by this corporate stooge shows how little the Bush experiments in democracy mean. These are sham democracies, where women are worse off than before USA invaded, to set things right? Something went horribly wrong, and if it is all the fault of Bush, why is the Obama policy not a full reversal? These experiments in democracy are total failures, except for a few corporations with sweet contracts supporting the war effort. Obama could renounce it utterly, but has chosen just to shift forces and strategies around, hoping both disasters can be salvaged with his wise leadership? If Obama wants to improve on Bush, or if he thinks rights for women should actually carry some weight, he could renounce recognition of this government headed by Karzai, or get the hell all the way out, preferably both. Obama thinks his strategy will bring America back from the brink. No, that would require abandoning conventional wisdom, from which he has chosen liberally to guide and implement his plans.

President Obama could give up trying to salvage what Bush started. These are not his wars, though he consistently voted to fund them, not wars the people of USA understood, after being sold a bill of goods, a public relations masquerade now shown to have more holes than substance. He could get the troops out of there. They are not wanted and can serve no useful purpose. The occupation plays into the hands of the resistance, which Obama promises to defeat, to deny terrorists a safe haven, but that will never be accomplished by military means, or making alliances with warlords notorious for terrorizing women. Obama could ask the women of RAWA, read their News Archive, get a clue of the views of the women he says he cares about. The occupation has not liberated women, only on paper, and Karzai and that Parliament of warlords has shown how little those words can mean.

Another prominent feminist activist, Sitara Achakzai, was shot down last Saturday in Kandahar. A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility. Her friend and fellow member of the provincial council, who asked her name not be published in fear for her own life, was quoted in the Sunday Globe and Mail

“Obviously, we’ve had a brain drain. … Now when we’re slowly trying to think for the future of the country …this is how our country repays people,” Ms. Achakzai’s friend said. “I have no faith in my government. I have no faith in the Taliban. I have no faith in the international community.”

Malalai Joya knows how little those claims of liberated women mean. Here is some of what she said recently about the plight of women in Afghanistan, from The Age in Australia

A voice of hope for Afghanistan’s women
Frud Bezhan
April 14, 2009

“Today, because there is no strong central government, Afghanistan is carved up between these same warlords, who have now filled the shoes of the Taliban,” Joya says. “Afghanistan is once again in the hands of rapists, murderers and extremists.”

She claims that although liberating women was one of the main moral arguments for invading Afghanistan in 2001, the situation for women has continued to deteriorate. “Ninety per cent of women in Afghanistan suffer from domestic violence, 80 per cent of marriages are forced, and the average life expectancy for women is 44 years,” she says.

Joya recounts the harrowing stories of two women she has met. Fatima, the daughter of a poor shopkeeper, was sold to a man, 50, who raped and beat her and then traded her for a dog. Her father did not have the money to buy back his daughter, 23. Shabnum, seven, was kidnapped and raped by three men, who cut her genitals.

“The plight of victims such as these girls is my driving force,” Joya says. “I will never give up my fight for justice, and I’ll continue to try to represent the millions of voiceless Afghan people — especially women and children — who are still being brutalised by warlords and the Taliban. While ordinary women and girls face rape, forced marriages and inhuman acts of abuse daily, women who stand up for their rights and take a public role in society risk being killed or silenced.

Despite the pressure brought to bear by the world community and while acknowledging the contribution of international forces in Afghanistan, Joya believes the US and other foreign powers are making a mockery of democracy and the liberation of Afghan women by empowering the warlords and fundamentalists.

“The US talks about thousands of girls flocking back to school, but the fundamentalists in power are encouraging the destruction of schools, the killing of teachers and the kidnapping of students,” Joya says. “The US also talks about the improving situation for women, but they are committing suicide more than ever. They would rather die than live.”

Yes, President Obama is contributing to this mockery of democracy and the liberation of Afghan women by empowering the warlords and fundamentalists. Calling this new law abhorrent is a nice gesture, but it means about as much as Karzai promising to review it. Karzai has no need to review the law; he knew all along what is wrong with it, and pushed for it anyway. If Shia men want to crack down on their rebellious women, that should be condemned. If the law and President cannot forbid Shia from practicing their oppressive customs, they should at least remain neutral, not codify those customs into law. Clearly maintaining his power matters more to Karzai than rights for women. Since that is his attitude, supporting his government contributes to this mockery. Obama may claim his plan is the best hope for Afghan women, but few of them agree, and they ought to know better than any US politician or general determined to defeat the terrorists.

14 Responses to “Karzai Makes Mockery of Democracy”

  1. Aletha Says:

    There is mixed reaction to the announcement of revisions to this law. The most overtly objectionable sections apparently will be removed after all, after nearly a three month review by the Ministry of Justice. This AP story is from Yahoo News

    Afghanistan tones down contentious marriage law
    By RAHIM FAIEZ and HEIDI VOGT, Associated Press Writers
    Thu Jul 9, 3:16 pm ET

    KABUL – Afghanistan’s government has revised a law that stirred an international outcry because it essentially legalized marital rape, officials said Thursday. The new version no longer requires a woman submit to sex with her husband, only that she do certain housework.

    The changes, which parliament is expected to approve, likely reflect a calculation by President Hamid Karzai that his reputation as a reformer is more important than support from conservative Shiites who favored the original bill.

    Presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada said the revisions show that Karzai has followed through on a pledge made in April to expunge the offensive parts of the marriage law, which applies only to minority Shiite Muslims.

    Women’s rights activists welcomed the new draft, but many said the government had not done enough and that little will change in day-to-day life.

    “We need a change in customs, and this is just on paper. What is being practiced every day, in Kabul even, is worse than the laws,” said Shukria Barakzai, a lawmaker and vocal women’s rights advocate.

    Even within this conservative Muslim society, a host of academics and politicians signed a petition condemning the law, and women took to the streets of Kabul in protest.

    After the firestorm of criticism, Karzai ordered a Justice Ministry review, which took three months.

    Two of the most controversial articles have been drastically changed, according to documents supplied by the ministry. An article that previously required a wife to submit to regular sex now requires her only to perform whatever household chores the couple agreed to when they married. The revised version makes no attempt to regulate sexual relations between husband and wife.

    A section that required a wife to ask her husband’s permission to leave the house has also been deleted. In its place, an article states that a woman is the “owner of her property and can use her property without the permission of her husband.”

    Shiites comprise 10 to 20 percent of Afghanistan’s 30 million people; the majority are Sunni Muslim. Nonetheless, the measure caused an uproar because it harkened back to Taliban-era rules. The Taliban, Sunnis who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, required women to wear all-covering burqas and banned them from leaving home without a male relative.

    Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, said the amendments would “ensure Afghanistan meets international obligations.”

    “The United Nations has had concerns about parts of the law that do not conform with international law, particularly in regard to the rights of women,” Siddique said.

    Although many Afghans criticized the law, their voices were often overwhelmed by conservative Shiites who said the legislation protected their right to live according to their interpretation of Islam’s holy book, the Quran. At a protest in April, supporters of the law shouted insults and threw rocks at women who opposed it.

    Before Karzai came out strongly against the law, his critics said he might be using the legislation to court Shiites in the Aug. 20 presidential election. Approval of the changes before the vote would put Karzai on the side of the reformers.

    Even so, Roshan Sirran, who heads a group that informs women of their rights under Islamic and international law, said the new version still relies too much on agreements entered into at the time of marriage. Such contracts aren’t a traditional part of an engagement or marriage in Afghanistan, she said.

    “This is not implementable in our society. There will be no agreement on any conditions at the time of the marriage between husband and wife,” Sirran said. Others said men have too much freedom to marry second wives without consulting their first wives. Islam allows men up to four wives.

    Parliament is in recess and will not convene again for nearly two weeks. Hamidzada, the presidential spokesman, said Afghanistan’s influential clerics council and civil society leaders will also have to sign off on the revised law.

    I must confess I did not expect Karzai to do anything about this law. Perhaps the pressure behind the scenes got to him, or perhaps his lead in the polls made him less concerned about support from reactionary Shias. I do not believe his story about not being aware of these provisions in the original bill. The Karzai government is notoriously corrupt and indifferent to the concerns of women. This action I think was done to cover his ass; he cannot afford to thumb his nose at Western governments, since their troops are keeping him in power.

    This is Malalai Joya, posted on RAWA News on July 4

    Afghanistan: ‘The truth cannot be killed’
    “The situation for women in Afghanistan today is like hell”, Afghan feminist, pro-democracy activist and illegally suspended parliamentarian Malalai Joya told Green Left Weekly.

    The invasion was carried out “in the name of human rights and women’s rights”. However, Joya said: “The US has imposed the Northern Alliance fundamentalists on our people. They are the criminal mujaheddin from the 1992-96 civil war with the same mentality as the Taliban, but with suits and ties talking about democracy.”

    The mujaheddin combined violent and misogynist religious fundamentalism with violent and misogynist banditry, with mass rape their favoured military tactic. This made the civil war period as dark as the Taliban rule that followed.

    “We do not have liberation”, Joya said. “These Taliban were created by the US … in the religious schools in Pakistan, with the support of Saudi Arabia, but the Northern Alliance is also the product of the US government.

    “In the Cold War, they wasted lots of money on them as puppets, but they became like mice when the Taliban came to power. They just crept into their holes.

    “But after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the US again made them wolves —in the skin of lambs to deceive the world.

    “The democratic parties are not able to publish magazines, they are underground.

    “Today, under the eyes of thousands of US and other foreign soldiers, the main problem for women — and men — is security. The prominent case of Pervez Kambakhsh is enough to know about injustice in Afghanistan.”

    Kambakhsh is a student who, in 2007, was arrested for downloading an article on women’s rights. “They put him in jail and announced he’ll be hanged”, Joya told GLW.

    Protests in Afghanistan and worldwide resulted in a sentence of 20 years jail instead — “while criminals are free”.

    When visiting the West, Joya is frequently asked whether a Western troop withdrawal would mean a further descent into civil war and allow the Taliban to return to power. She rejected this reasoning.

    “This is what the media want to make people think”, she told GLW. “But what’s going on today is like civil war. People are squashed today between two enemies: an internal and an external enemy …

    “That’s why its better if the foreign troops leave as soon as possible. People are saying: we don’t expect anything good from you, just stop your wrongdoing.

    “Bombs falling from the sky are killing our people. On the ground, the Northern Alliance and Taliban are killing our people. From both sides our people are the victims — especially women and children.”

    She cited a May 4 US air-strike in her native Farah province. “The mainstream media wants to throw dust in the eyes of the world. Over 150 people were killed. I spoke to a young woman who lost 20 members of her own family.

    “This was a massacre. I was banned from giving a press conference. But the US government and media said only 20 were killed.

    “Our people hate warlords, don’t support Karzai and his puppet government of war criminals and drug lords who now want to negotiate with the Taliban. Our people hate the Taliban.

    “If the troops withdraw, then it is easier fight with one enemy. Now we are fighting with two enemies: occupation forces and these criminals.

    “A superpower like Russia could not occupy our country, and the US, whose occupation is a war crime and a mockery of democracy, one day they will face the resistance of my people. Despite the lack of security, after the Farah massacre there were demonstrations in Farah and of students in Kabul — huge demonstrations of people from all provinces.

    On August 20, Karzai is up for re-election. He has chosen two notorious warlords, Mohammed Qasim Fahim and Karim Khalili, as his vice-presidential running mates.

    While the Western media is describing the elections as a test for Afghan democracy, Joya is scathing. “The elections are under the warlords, drug lords, awful corruption and the occupation forces. To talk about free elections is not only ridiculous, it has no legitimacy at all.

    “Most of the candidates are discredited faces. At most, one puppet can be replaced with another puppet. It’s just for the US to deceive people around the world.

    “There’s a saying that it’s not important who’s voting, but who’s counting. We have a proverb: same donkey, different saddle.”

    Are you listening, President Obama? He should be. Other recent articles from RAWA News cite a new UN report about widespread rape and violence against Afghan women, which is hardly a high priority for the Karzai government. This one was posted July 7

    Violence against Afghan women, including rape, widespread and unpunished, says UN
    Police and judicial officials are often not aware or convinced that rape is a serious criminal offence, the report says, adding that “Investigating a rape case is rarely a priority.”

    A new UN report on women in Afghanistan, issued Wednesday, describes the extensive and increasing level of violence directed at women taking part in public life, as well as the “widespread occurrence” of rape against a backdrop of institutional failure and impunity.

    The 32-page report, issued jointly by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), notes that “violence, in the public and private spheres, is an everyday occurrence in the lives of a huge proportion of Afghan women.”

    “This report paints a detailed and deeply disturbing picture of the situation facing many Afghan women today,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. “The limited space that opened up for Afghan women following the demise of the Taliban regime in 2001 is under sustained attack, not just by the Taliban themselves, but by deeply engrained cultural practices and customs, and – despite a number of significant advances in terms of the creation of new legislation and institutions — by a chronic failure at all levels of government to advance the protection of women’s rights in Afghanistan.”

    While touching on the full range of violence affected Afghan women – including so-called “honour” killings, the exchange of women and girls as a form of dispute-resolution (often in connection with land or property issues), trafficking and abduction, early and forced marriages and domestic violence – the report focuses on two principal issues: the “growing trend” of violence and threats against women in public life, and rape and sexual violence.

    Women participating in virtually all sectors of public life, including “parliamentarians, provincial council members, civil servants, journalists, women working for international organizations… have been targeted by anti-government elements, by local traditional and religious power-holders, by their own families and communities, and in some instances by government authorities,” the report says, citing a number of individual examples of targeted killings of professional women, as well as a litany of discrimination, threats, intimidation and harassment aimed at prominent or working women and their families.

    Why should USA support this government? What purpose could it serve? Is Malalai Joya incorrect to say the US occupation is a war crime and a mockery of democracy? I think she is right on the money. There is no way sending more troops is going to rectify this situation. Neither is dropping more bombs on Pakistan. The Obama strategy is at least as immoral and counterproductive as the Bush strategy. Same donkey, different saddle.

  2. Aletha Says:

    Afghan women and human rights groups seem unimpressed with the changes made to this law. This story is from the Guardian

    Women: Afghanistan women outraged at proposed family planning law
    Janine di Giovanni
    The Guardian, Friday 24 July 2009

    A few days after the Taliban were toppled in 2001 I was in Kabul. The city was jubilant and full of hope for the future, and I remember talking to some laughing teenage girls in the street. One was excited because she could now go back to school. Another sang terrible disco songs and showed me dance steps she had been practising for five years in secret. A third debated whether to take off her burka. “Is it safe enough yet?” she asked me. “For five years, I lived inside this prison.”

    Eight years later I returned, but the Afghanistan I found was far from jubilant. Despite the money poured into reconstruction and development, it is one of the five poorest countries in the world. There is 40% unemployment – nearly 80% in some parts of the country. A third of children under five are malnourished. Life expectancy is 43 – and it is one of only three countries in the world where women die earlier than men.

    I arrived to meet women before the presidential elections next month and to talk about a new law, which if brought in, could have drastic repercussions for women. The Shia Family Planning law was signed last March by President Hamid Karzai in an attempt, many believe, to appease powerful mullahs. The Afghan constitution allows Shias to have a separate family law from the Sunni majority based on traditional Shia jurisprudence, and some think the law is linked to the August elections and the Shia electorate who would have to abide by it (they could form up to 20% of the electorate).

    The proposed law led to furious protests from women’s groups. It sanctioned marital rape and brought back Taliban-era restrictions on women by outlining when a woman could leave her house and the circumstances in which she has to have sex with her husband; Shia woman would be allowed to leave home alone “for a legitimate purpose” only which the law does not define, and could refuse sex with their husbands only when ill or menstruating.

    Following international outrage, Karzai backtracked and said the law would be reviewed. This month it was amended and re-signed by the president, but has not yet been ratified by parliament. Human rights groups say it is unclear how much the amendments have done to improve the law. And the law has already achieved its aim – instilling fear and insecurity among an already traumatised female population.

    Soraya Sobhrang, a human rights activist I meet in her Kabul office, says, “The law will affect all women if it goes through. It opens the door for other repressive laws to be passed, for Sunni Muslims as well as Shia.” A young doctor friend, Najeeb Shawal, says he is seeing more female patients who were depressed since news of the law emerged. “They have the kind of hopelessness that comes with knowing your life is incredibly repressed. And might become more so.”

    Karzai’s initial (ridiculous) defence was that he had not read the law before signing it the first time. Most women here are cynical of his about-turn. “It’s an election year,” Seema says. Business developer Meena Sherzoy, 49, whom I meet a few days later, says, “What is he supposed to say to the west? It makes him look like a radical fundamentalist. “

    The fact that a law like the family planning law could even be conceived in 2009 – even if it did come through Iranian-influenced radical mullahs as many believe – is surprising to most Afghans.

    “The speed of which this law has gone through [to the president] has shocked me” says Soraya Sobrhang, . “It’s not a law – it is theft.” In April, Sobrhang and some of her colleagues staged a protest. “Suddenly, about 200 students from the madrassa surrounded us.” The women were stoned – Sobrhang , a grandmother, was hit on the shoulder and nearly knocked to the ground. Their banners were torn as the angry men blocked them from moving towards the parliament. I keep thinking of this image – of the tiny grandmother and her brave colleagues surrounded by hissing madrassa students. Soraya says she is not afraid.

    But other people are – for the future of their daughters. Back in Kabul, Seema Ghani organises a lunch for her friends – all powerful, emancipated women. It is true that they are a small class within Afghanistan, but they have very different backgrounds. Some were educated in the west; some lived in America. Some like Aziza Momman, who ran girls schools during the time of the Taliban, or Fahima Barati, who runs a school for dressmaking, hold traditional views. But they are united on one point: the law stuns all of them.

    As they talk it sounds like the kind of banter I could hear at home in Paris. A middle- aged woman recounting how her husband left her for a younger woman; an overworked mum talking of her daughter resenting her job; a single woman complaining about finding a man in your 40s. Except these stories have a deeper resonance: the husband leaves his wife for a younger second wife; the daughter is embarrassed by her feminist mother who does not wear a burka and is threatened by the Taliban; the woman in her 40s complains that an Afghan man is happy to have a spirited intelligent lover, but when it comes down to it, “they want the virgin!” “The glass ceiling is very thick here,” admits Katrin Fakiri, “those who break it have to be exceptional.” And Meena Sherzoy, who runs her own business, says, “If we had female leadership, this law would not be going through . . . would not even be raised.”

    It seems the changes in this law are cosmetic, meant as a smokescreen to placate Western sensibilities. I must ask again, what is the point of propping up this regime? Is Hamid Karzai such a useful puppet? With friends like these, who needs enemies?

  3. Aletha Says:

    Karzai approved the law by decree a month ago during a legislative recess, preventing further debate. This AP story is from Yahoo News

    Women activists condemn Afghan marriage law
    By HEIDI VOGT, Associated Press Writer
    Mon Aug 17, 4:16 pm ET

    KABUL – Women’s rights activists alleged Monday that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has used a constitutional loophole to enact a law that allows minority Shiite Muslim husbands to refuse food and money to their wives if they deny them sex.

    The activists suspect Karzai took the step to appease conservative Shiite clergy ahead of Thursday’s presidential election. Nearly 20 percent of Afghans are Shiites and could become an influential voting block as Karzai contests for a new five-year term.

    The legislation, which governs many aspects of family life for Afghanistan’s Shiites, has been sparking controversy since Karzai signed an earlier version in March. Critics said the original legislation essentially legalized marital rape and Karzai quickly suspended enforcement after governments around the world condemned it as oppressive and a return to Taliban-era repression of women.

    But the revised version, made public in July, riled activists all over again because many restrictive articles remained, including one that appears to give a husband the right to starve his wife if she refuses to have sex with him.

    Female parliamentarians said they thought they would get the chance to fight for revisions, only to discover in recent days that Karzai had taken advantage of a legislative recess to approve the law by decree. Parliament has the right to examine and change the law when they reconvene but the law stays in effect in the meantime.

    The new law includes a section saying that a husband must provide financially for his wife. It also says that he can withhold this support if she refuses to “submit to her husband’s reasonable sexual enjoyment,” according to a translation of the article supplied by New York-based Human Rights Watch.

    In Afghanistan, where most women are uneducated and depend on their husbands for food and clothing, the article could be used to justify a husband starving a wife who refuses to have sex with him.

    The legislation was passed by presidential decree in mid-July and published in Afghanistan’s official gazette on July 27, which brings the law into force, according to Human Rights Watch. Lawmakers confirmed the process.

    Shinkai Kharokhel, a lawmaker who has been involved in reforming the legislation, said no one from the administration told her that the law was being approved without further debate. Instead, she had to learn thirdhand that the law she had been fighting was now in effect.

    “I was called by a friend, and then a few people from the embassies. And I said, ‘I have to check with the minister.’ I was really shocked,” she said. “My understanding was that it would be sent to parliament. I never thought it would just be published.”

    With a large backlog of legislation to debate and the sensitivity of the issue, it’s unclear if parliament will revisit the Shiite marriage law anytime soon.

    “I think the chances of this being discussed in parliament in the next year or so are low and the chances of improvements being made are lower. So as far this law, I think we’re stuck with it,” said Rachel Reid, an Afghanistan researcher with Human Rights Watch.

    Kharokhel said she felt like the women of Afghanistan had been pushed to the side to appease powerful Shiite men who were worried that legislation would not get passed if they waited until after Thursday’s election.

    “I am sure it is Shiite leaders pushing the president of the country so that as soon as possible they would get a law,” she said.

    Although the law applies only to Shiites, women activists fear the law is a step toward the Taliban’s draconian treatment of women.

    Meanwhile, President Obama urges patience.

    “The insurgency in Afghanistan didn’t just happen overnight and we won’t defeat it overnight,” he said.

    “This will not be quick, nor easy. But we must never forget this is not a war of choice, this is a war of necessity.”

    No, this was always a war of choice, and now it is his choice to escalate it, despite its utter futility. Obama is not trying to defeat an insurgency, rather the popular resistance to an illegal occupation. The Taliban never attacked USA, nor threatened to, but did in fact offer to turn over Osama bin Laden if Bush provided some evidence he orchestrated the attack on Sept. 11, 2001. Bush claimed to have plenty of evidence, but he chose to start a war instead of attempting to negotiate with the Taliban government. I do not say this because I doubt bin Laden had a role in that attack, but Obama likes to evade the reasons Muslim fanatics have for wanting to fight this empire, and he is contributing mightily to those reasons. The only reason the US army has not been utterly routed out of Afghanistan is the unpopularity of the Taliban, whose tactics of brutalizing and intimidating the Afghan people make US policy seem almost forgivable by comparison. Regardless, Karzai has shown once again that whatever kind of democracy Obama says it is necessary to defend, it is at best only meaningful for Afghan men. For the women, it is a cruel mockery.

  4. Aletha Says:

    Malalai Joya wrote an editorial for the Guardian about this farce of an election.

    Malalai Joya: Don’t be fooled by this democratic façade – the people are betrayed
    Thursday, 20 August 2009

    Like millions of Afghans, I have no hope in the results of today’s election. In a country ruled by warlords, occupation forces, Taliban terrorists, drug money and guns, no one can expect a legitimate or fair vote. Even international observers have been speaking about widespread fraud and intimidation and, among the people on the street, there is a common refrain: the real winner has already been picked by the White House.

    President Hamid Karzai has cemented alliances with brutal warlords and fundamentalists in order to maintain his position. Although our constitution forbids war criminals from running for office, the incumbent has named two notorious militia commanders as his vice-presidential running mates – Karim Khalili and Mohammad Qasim Fahim, both of whom stand accused of brutalities against our people.

    Deals have also been made with countless fundamentalists. This week saw the return from exile of the dreaded warlord Rashid Dostum. And the pro-Iranian extremist Mohammad Mohaqiq, who has been accused of war crimes, has been promised five cabinet positions for his party in exchange for supporting Mr Karzai.

    Rather than democracy, what we have in Afghanistan are back-room deals among discredited warlords who are sworn enemies of democracy and justice.

    The President has also continued to absolutely betray the women of Afghanistan.

    Even after massive international outcry – and brave protesters taking to the streets of Kabul – Mr Karzai implemented the infamous rape law, targeting Shia women, to gain support of the fundamentalist elements in the election. He had initially promised to review the most egregious clauses, but in the end it was passed with few amendments and the barbaric anti-women statements not removed. As Human Rights Watch recently stated: “Karzai has made an unthinkable deal to sell Afghan women out in return for the support of fundamentalists.”

    All of the major candidates’ speeches and policies are very similar. They make the same sweet-sounding promises, but we are not fooled. Afghans remember how Mr Karzai abandoned his campaign pledges after winning the 2005 vote.

    We Afghans know that this election will change nothing and it is only part of a show of democracy put on by, and for, the West, to legitimise its future puppet in Afghanistan. It seems we are doomed to see the continuation of this failed, mafia-like, corrupt government for another term.

    The people of Afghanistan are fed up with the rampant corruption of Karzai’s “narco-state” (his own brother, Wali Karzai, has been linked to drug trafficking in Kandahar province) and the escalating war waged by Nato. In May of this year, US air strikes killed approximately 150 civilians in my native province, Farah.

    More than ever, Afghans are faced with powerful internal enemies – fundamentalist warlords and their Taliban brothers-in-creed – and the external enemies occupying the country.

    Democracy will never come to Afghanistan through the barrel of a gun, or from the cluster bombs dropped by foreign forces. The struggle will be long and difficult, but the values of real democracy, human rights and women’s rights will only be won by the Afghan people themselves.

    So do not be fooled by this façade of democracy. The British and other Western governments that claim to be bringing democracy to Afghanistan ignore public opinion in their own countries, where growing numbers are against the war.

    In my tours to countries that have troops in Afghanistan, I’ve met many bereaved parents who have lost their loved ones in the war in my home. I am very sorry to see governments putting the lives of their soldiers in danger in Afghanistan in the name of bringing democracy. In fact the soldiers are serving the strategic and regional interests of the White House and the consequences of their occupation so far have been devastating for my people.

    Karzai and his strongest rival have declared the election a success, despite poor turnout in many areas of the country. For whom? For Karzai, perhaps. For Obama, perhaps. Not for the women of Afghanistan, not by a long shot. Heart also posted this editorial today. Afghanistan: Warlords and Fundamentalists Win; Women Lose, Damnit Is Anybody LISTENING?
    Unfortunately, not in the halls of power, where politicians spin this facade into a triumph of democracy.

  5. Aletha Says:

    Today it is reported that Karzai has been issued stern warnings that US patience is running out! What, has it now become so abundantly clear that democracy in Afghanistan is a sham? This story is from Reuters

    US warns Karzai on fraud, corruption, militia ties
    Thu Aug 27, 2009 9:53pm EDT
    By Adam Entous

    WASHINGTON, Aug 27 (Reuters) – U.S. envoys and lawmakers have bluntly warned Afghan President Hamid Karzai that American patience is running out, citing concerns about allegations of fraud and corruption and attempts to prejudge the outcome of last week’s election, participants said on Thursday.

    Karzai met twice with U.S. President Barack Obama’s envoy to Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, after the Aug. 20 presidential election, including a private lunch in Kabul that turned “tense” when the U.S. envoy raised the possibility of a run-off.

    After that confrontation, the two finished dessert and shook hands, officials said.

    U.S. tensions with Karzai, in meetings with Holbrooke and a visiting delegation of U.S. senators, reflected both election-time stress and growing discord in American relations with the man who has been leading Afghanistan since the Taliban was overthrown in 2001.

    Endemic government corruption and his close ties with former militia leaders have eroded Karzai’s support, both with the Afghan people and with Washington policymakers.

    The Obama administration was particularly disturbed by Karzai’s last-minute alliance with Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostum, officials said.

    Tensions flared the day after the election, when Karzai’s campaign drew Washington’s ire by declaring victory even though none of the results had been released by the independent election commission.

    Washington fears such declarations undercut the commission and cast doubt on the election’s legitimacy.

    At their lunch meeting, Holbrooke urged Karzai to respect the election process, particularly given the possibility of a run-off. Karzai, who has told Washington that a run-off risks igniting ethnic violence, became angry, officials said.

    Holbrooke has said Washington would make the fight against corruption a central focus after the election, a move that could further stoke tensions with a Karzai administration.

    U.S. officials fear allegations of fraud will undermine Afghan public support for whatever government emerges after the election.

    “There’s been wholesale fraud to the benefit of Karzai in the past but there is no evidence that he was personally involved in fraud,” a U.S. State Department official said after the vote.

    A new Washington Post-ABC News poll showed most Americans believe the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting and only a quarter say more troops should be sent there.

    So much for this war of necessity, as Obama refers to it. Karzai may have been installed as a US puppet, but sometimes such puppets rebel, whereupon USA generally decides they have outlived their usefulness. Whatever will Obama do if Karzai decides to disregard these warnings? The proportion of gullible citizens buying his spin about his version of the war on terror steadily shrinks, along with his approval rating. Obama had best think of some plan to get out of Afghanistan before its similarity to the Vietnam fiasco becomes apparent to everyone. There is no evidence Karzai was personally involved in wholesale fraud that worked to his benefit? All that means is that Karzai covered his tracks well enough so that no smoking gun has yet come to light. Wake up, Mr. President, the war on terror Bush bequeathed is as unwinnable and outright wrong as the war on Vietnam. Even if the Afghan government was worth supporting, increasing the presence of occupying troops will not solve anything.

  6. Eric Says:

    You ladies really need to settle down. Just stick to issues in the kitchen and let the Men figure out how to run the world.

    Don’t want to send you little ladies into fits of hysteria now, do we?

  7. Aletha Says:

    Oh, that is rich. Are you saying men need more time to figure out how to run the world? Sorry, men have had way too much time for that already, and the results are perfectly clear; the world is a total mess, and getting worse all the while. Or did you mean, fits of hysterical laughter at your silly admonitions?

  8. Free Soil Party Blog » Blog Archive » State of the Union 2011 Says:

    […] in its hostility to the rights of women. Karzai pretends to respect the rights of women, but his actions speak louder than words. Obama should pay some attention to the words of expelled member of Parliament Malalai Joya. The […]

  9. Aletha Says:

    Karzai is now threatening to put the shelters for women in Afghanistan under control of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, which is ill-equipped to run them. This story is posted at the Ms. blog, and a related story at the New York Times.

    Afghan Proposal Would Clamp Down on Women’s Shelters
    Published: February 10, 2011

    KABUL, Afghanistan — After her parents threw her out of the house for refusing to marry a 52-year-old widower with five children, Sabra, 18, boarded a bus that dropped her, afraid and confused, in downtown Kabul. She slept in a mosque for days, barely eating, until a woman took pity on her and put her in touch with human rights workers, who escorted her to a women’s shelter.

    That journey — terrifying enough for a young woman who had never ventured beyond the corner bazaar — would become harder still under new rules being drafted by the Afghan government that women’s advocates say will deter the most vulnerable women and girls from seeking refuge and are placing shelters under siege.

    The new rules speak to the suspicions that women’s shelters still generate in this deeply conservative society, where the shelters have come to symbolize the competition between modern values and traditional Afghan ways. Many believe their very existence at best encourages girls to run away from home and at worst are fronts for brothels.

    The changes in the law would require a woman like Sabra to justify her flight to an eight-member government panel, which would determine whether she needed to be in a shelter or should be sent to jail or back home, where she would be at risk of a beating or even death. She would also have to undergo a physical exam that could include a virginity test.

    While some are hopeful that the government may soften the provisions before final approval, women’s advocates see the effort as an example of government pandering to religious and social conservatives as President Hamid Karzai’s administration starts reconciliation efforts with insurgents. Women’s rights, they fear, will be the first area in which the government makes compromises.

    “I’m not sure why they are doing it — maybe because the government is becoming more conservative and to appease the Taliban they are doing things like this,” said Manizha Naderi, the director of Women for Afghan Women, which runs three shelters and five family counseling centers around the country.

    “Domestic violence is cultural and it takes time to change and it will change, but women need a safe place when they are a victim of violence,” she said.

    A decade ago, shelters for abused women did not even exist in Afghanistan, where even now many of the worst practices associated with the Taliban era, like arranged marriages for child brides, public flogging and mutilation of women, continue in rural areas.

    Today, about 14 women’s shelters exist, financed by a mix of international organizations, private donors and Western governments. The new rules, drafted by the Women’s Affairs Ministry, would place those shelters under direct government control.

    The rules have alarmed women’s advocates, who say they fear a government-appointed panel will not be able to stand up to pressure from power brokers or others who may want their daughters sent home so that they can be punished in accord with Afghan customs. Even fleeing an abusive marriage is seen as bringing shame on a woman’s family.

    “Many times, I have faced difficulties from the governor or district governor who are supporting the family of the girl, not the girl,” said Soraya Pakzad, who runs shelters in Herat and Badghis Provinces. “If her father is an ex-commander and the judge is a friend and they say, ‘You have to send the girl home,’ we are able to raise our voices, but I am afraid that courage will not be found in the Department of Women’s Affairs.”

    The shelter directors say they are willing to be subject to close government monitoring and are ready to adhere to government-required operating procedures. Running the shelters, however, is not something that the Women’s Affairs Ministry has the budget, the staff or expertise to take on, according to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and shelter directors.

    “The ministry cannot find staff for its offices in some of the provinces, so how will they find staff for the more sensitive job of running shelters?” said Soraya Sobhrang, a member of the human rights commission who focuses on women’s issues.

    Once again Karzai shows his true colors. He does not give a damn about women who need shelter. Afghan women have been liberated? Yeah, right, from the frying pan into the fire!

    This from the Ms. blog says it all:

    “At this sensitive time when the government is going to start negotiation for peace and reconciliation with the opponents, women human rights are on the top list of threats,” says a statement from the Afghan Women Skills Development Center, which runs a shelter in Kabul.

    This is the kind of “democracy” USA likes to support. Not only is the regime thoroughly corrupt, dominated by warlords who have no respect for women, but now in order to prevent the Taliban from regaining power, Karzai is trying to negotiate with the “moderates” among them. This is tantamount to conceding defeat. The long war has been for naught. The country has been devastated, fit for little besides growing opium poppies, and the people probably despise USA even more than before. Patriotic fools here may think this is ingratitude, but the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan have good reasons to despise USA, and those reasons are compounding every day. Obama says USA supports the democratic aspirations of all people? What about the women of Afghanistan, thrown under the bus yet again? Oh, they do not count, not when it seems more necessary to spin concessions to the Taliban as an honorable way to wind down this war than to call Karzai on the carpet for selling out the rights of women. Oh, there were some harsh words aimed at Karzai for that Shia family law that is the original subject of this entry, but what came of that besides disingenuous reassurances from Karzai that ended up meaning nothing? He got away with that, and he will get away with this affront to women as well, because for Obama, creating the impression that the war is going well is paramount.

  10. Aletha Says:

    Did my words sound too harsh? On Sunday, the Washington Post ran an article which made me think I was not harsh enough.

    In Afghanistan, U.S. shifts strategy on women’s rights as it eyes wider priorities
    By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, March 6, 2011

    When the U.S. Agency for International Development sought bids last March for a $140 million land reform program in Afghanistan, it insisted that the winning contractor meet specific goals to promote women’s rights: The number of deeds granting women title had to increase by 50 percent; there would have to be regular media coverage on women’s land rights; and teaching materials for secondary schools and universities would have to include material on women’s rights.

    Before the contract was awarded, USAID overhauled the initiative, stripping out those concrete targets. Now, the contractor only has to perform “a written evaluation of Afghan inheritance laws,” assemble “summaries of input from women’s groups” and draft amendments to the country’s civil code.

    The removal of specific women’s rights requirements, which also took place in a $600 million municipal government program awarded last year, reflects a shift in USAID’s approach in Afghanistan. Instead of setting ambitious goals to improve the status of Afghan women, the agency is tilting toward more attainable measures.

    “If you’re targeting an issue, you need to target it in a way you can achieve those objectives,” said J. Alexander Thier, director of USAID’s Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs. “The women’s issue is one where we need hardheaded realism. There are things we can do, and do well. But if we become unrealistic and overfocused . . . we get ourselves in trouble.”

    A senior U.S. official involved in Afghanistan policy said changes to the land program also stem from a desire at the top levels of the Obama administration to triage the war and focus on the overriding goal of ending the conflict.

    “Gender issues are going to have to take a back seat to other priorities,” said the senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal policy deliberations. “There’s no way we can be successful if we maintain every special interest and pet project. All those pet rocks in our rucksack were taking us down.”

    The changes come at a time of growing concern among rights advocates that the modest gains Afghan women have achieved since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001 are being rolled back.

    New rules being drafted by President Hamid Karzai’s government would bar private safe houses for women who are fleeing abuse and place new rules on those seeking refuge in the country’s 14 public shelters, including forcing women to submit to medical examinations and evicting them if their families want them back. The proposed rules would also bring the shelters – funded by international organizations, Western governments and private donors – under the direct control of the Afghan government.

    Women’s advocates say the restrictions on shelters, which have been embraced by religious conservatives sympathetic to the Taliban, are an early sign of the compromises the Karzai government is willing to make to reach a peace deal with insurgents. The advocates fear that reconciliation with the Taliban – a goal supported by the U.S. government – will result in a significant erosion of women’s rights.

    In an effort to mollify those concerns, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton promised last month that the United States “will not . . . support a political process that undoes the social progress that has been made in the past decade.”

    As USAID seeks to work more closely with Afghans, women’s advocates worry that Afghan officials will use their new influence to soften requirements.

    “There’s a need to strengthen the capacity of the Afghan government, but that can’t be done at the expense of weakening women’s rights and access,” said Ritu Sharma, the president of Women Thrive Worldwide, a Washington-based advocacy organization. Like many other women’s rights advocates, she had not learned about the revisions to the program until contacted by a reporter.

    Thier said the revised program was not “a deliberate attempt to get away from women’s issues.” The changes, he said, were a result of a shift in the program’s focus. “It was just seen as overreaching in terms of what would be realistic,” he said.

    But a development specialist who works on gender issues for USAID and has reviewed both bid documents said the original program was “much stronger when it comes to women.” The revised program has a greater focus on providing basic services to the population – a key element of the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy.

    “The focus is no longer on building capacity, because we have to stem the insurgency,” the specialist said. “At times like that, gender becomes secondary.”

    USAID officials emphasize that their programs have contributed to significant improvements for Afghan women. The agency has paid for the training of about 1,500 midwives, which has helped to reduce infant mortality. The agency’s support for primary education has helped to increase the number of girls in school from almost zero in 2001 to more than 2.5 million.

    Despite deep opposition to women working outside the home, or even continuing schooling after puberty – in rural southern Afghanistan, a common expression among men is that “a woman’s place is in the home or in the ground” – USAID is trying to chip away at those attitudes by providing micro-credit for women to start businesses, teaching them to make handicrafts at home and encouraging them to participate in civil society groups.

    “We have had real, fundamental results in the investments we’ve made in the meat-and-potatoes approach to women’s empowerment that gets them in school, keeps them healthy and gradually gets them to have economic opportunity,” Thier said. But he noted that higher-profile issues, such as governance and land reform, have been more challenging for the United States to promote.

    “There’s a certain amount of radioactivity in our engagement,” he said. “It’s the Afghans who need to lead that charge.”

    But the senior U.S. official said domestic fatigue is also a factor.

    “Nobody wants to abandon the women of Afghanistan, but most Americans don’t want to keep fighting there for years and years,” the official said. “The grim reality is that, despite all of the talk about promoting women’s rights, things are going to have to give.”

    The grim reality is that the rights of Afghan women were just a smokescreen, to be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. In some ways the lives of Afghan women have improved, but in others their lives are about the same, or worse, and on balance, they have hardly been liberated. The attitudes of Afghan men toward women have not changed, and that has been and still is a bigger problem for women than the Taliban. Bottom line, fundamentalist religion of any stripe has no respect for women. This is hotly denied, but women know the difference between respect and being placed on the pedestal of queen of domesticity. All this talk of what is realistic is just an excuse, to evade the fact the war was an exercise in futility, benefiting primarily the military industrial complex and the tough on terror bonafides of George Bush Jr. and Barack Obama.

    These anonymous officials reveal perhaps more than they intended about the priorities of the Obama Administration. Feminism has always been a special interest for the Democratic Party, to be placated at times, but never to be a primary focus. Feminist issues have always taken a back seat to other priorities, and as the specialist said, when “we have to stem the insurgency,… gender becomes secondary.” This whole war has been an effort to stem the insurgency, so when was gender not secondary? Never! Same old crap, politics as usual. All those “pet rocks” were taking us down? The war on terror is nothing but a pet rock! It sure as hell is not accomplishing its avowed purpose, making USA safe from terrorism! If anything, this war on terror is ensuring a rationale to keep it going forever, or until the empire collapses of its own dead weight, since it makes more enemies every day!

  11. Aletha Says:

    MADRE has posted its opinion of the horrendous case of a woman put in jail for adultery after being raped, apparently only freed after agreeing her best course of action is to marry her rapist.

    US No Help to Afghan Rape Survivors
    Posted on: Monday, December 5, 2011
    By Yifat Susskind, MADRE Executive Director

    Two years ago, a 19-year-old Afghan woman named Gulnaz turned to the police after she was raped. For months, she had kept quiet about the attack. She was afraid of the retribution she might face for having tainted her family’s “honor.” She had already begun to show signs of the pregnancy conceived through the rape.

    What happened next only worsened her trauma. She was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the crime of adultery, for having had sex outside of marriage. She was given a choice: marry her rapist or go to prison.

    Recently, Gulnaz’s case has grabbed headlines. Her lawyers have mobilized a petition that gathered nearly 5,000 signatures in just a few days, demanding a pardon for Gulnaz from Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

    So far, there has been some good news. Karzai has agreed to her release, but accounts differ as to whether she will still be required to marry her rapist.

    Meanwhile, this case has revealed how far we still have to go when it comes to the conversation around Afghan women’s rights.

    Some have taken this opportunity to remind us women of how glad we should be to live in the US. It’s a convenient story that too many like to tell themselves—that human rights violations only happen “over there.” It puts forward the falsehood that women’s rights are the property of “Western” cultures.

    There is no denying that Afghan women face terrible human rights violations. Gulnaz’s case alone amply demonstrates that. Ten years after the US invasion, girls are still threatened for going to school. Women are still not free to work outside the home, choose whom they want to marry and exercise their most basic human rights without fear of violent reprisals.

    But these threats cannot be attributed to some simplistic notion of Afghan culture. Culture alone explains very little, since it’s always shaped by social and political factors, like poverty, war and occupation. We shape our cultures through our words and actions, including our work to promote women’s rights. Culture helps create the context of our lives, but it can be changed—yes, even in Afghanistan. And the ones best prepared to do that are Afghan women themselves.

    The fact is that few societies anywhere upheld women’s rights until women were successful in demanding those rights. The difference in Afghanistan is that, despite years of struggle, women’s rights are still not recognized. If you look only at Afghan “culture” for the explanation, you miss the fact that US militarism has contributed to the crisis of Afghan women.

    First, the war has threatened the safety of Afghan women and their families routinely in the line of fire. Second, the US occupation has supported a government whose record on women’s rights includes sending rape survivors like Gulnaz to jail and passing a law allowing husbands to refuse food and shelter to wives who deny them sex. Most recently, the US-supported government shut Afghan women’s rights activists out of the Bonn Conference, a gathering of world leaders who will make a plan for the country’s future. Women had to fight tooth and nail to create even the smallest space to be heard there.

    Having US soldiers in Afghanistan didn’t stop Gulnaz’s cousin’s husband from raping her. It didn’t stop her from being jailed. It won’t stop the same from happening to another woman. The hope for ending those abuses is not an occupying army but the activism of Afghan women. Women in Afghanistan have shown tremendous courage in standing up for Gulnaz, and we must support them.

    The feminist community is divided on whether the NATO occupation is doing any good for Afghan women. The Feminist Majority, for instance, has backed the war from the beginning, and still maintains women are better off than they were under the Taliban. In some ways, that may be true, but in other ways, they are worse off, and on balance, it depends on the bias of the observer. The position MADRE takes is much closer to my own. This war has been a disaster for Afghan women, who were just an excuse George Bush used to justify the invasion.

    It was nice of Karzai to pardon this woman, but she is far from alone, and this alleged democracy he “leads” is a mockery. There is no justice for women, who are terrorized routinely with impunity, though in this particular case, the rapist was also imprisoned. To blame the plight of Afghan women on the culture or religion misses the point, which is that they have not been liberated by the US invasion, and they will not be liberated by military means. To say Afghan women have more rights than they did under the Taliban is insulting them. That is like comparing degrees of slavery. Girls are now theoretically allowed to go to school, if they want to risk their lives, but Afghan women are still chattel, and killing every last member of the Taliban will not change that. President Obama is aware that there can ultimately be no military solution, enough so he thinks the “insurgents” can be weakened to the point a political settlement can be negotiated with “moderate” members of the Taliban. Where will that leave Afghan women? Oh, as that specialist I quoted in the previous comment observed, “gender becomes secondary.”

  12. Aletha Says:

    As if that is not bad enough, Gulnaz explains how the court of appeals of this government USA is supporting determined she should be sentenced for adultery:

    According to Gulnaz, she was initially given a two-year prison sentence, so she appealed. The court of appeals refused to accept her accusation of rape, she said, and raised her sentence to 12 years. They didn’t believe she was raped because they told her that a woman couldn’t get pregnant after her first sexual encounter, so therefore she must have had a consensual sexual relationship with her accuser, they told her.

    So this government is better than the Taliban, how?

  13. Aletha Says:

    Karzai is at it again, throwing Afghan women under the bus. I wonder what, if anything, Hillary Clinton said to him about it when they spoke yesterday. Obama and Karzai are attempting to broker an agreement guiding U.S.-Afghan relations after most foreign troops withdraw, and according to Karzai’s office, he also spoke with Clinton. This AP story is from RAWA

    Hamid Karzai backs restrictive code for women

    Afghanistan’s president endorsed a “code of conduct” issued by an influential council of clerics which activists say represents a giant step backward for women’s rights in the country.

    President Hamid Karzai’s remarks backing the Ulema Council’s document, which allows husbands to beat wives under certain circumstances and encourages segregation of the sexes, is seen as reaching out to insurgents like the Taliban.

    The US and Karzai hope that the Taliban can be brought into negotiations to end the country’s decade-long war. But activists say they are worried that gains made by women since 2001 may be lost in the process. When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan before the 2001 US invasion, girls were banned from going to school and women had to wear burqas that covered them from head to toe. Women were not allowed to leave home without a male relative as an escort.

    The “code of conduct” issued on Friday by the Ulema Council as part of a longer statement on national political issues is cast as a set of guidelines that religious women should obey voluntarily, but activists are concerned it will herald a reversal of the trend in Afghanistan since 2001 to pass laws aimed at expanding women’s rights.

    The rules say women should not travel without a male guardian and should not mingle with strange men in places such as schools, markets and offices. Beating one’s wife is prohibited only if there is no “sharia-compliant reason,” it says.

    Asked about the code at a press conference in Kabul, Karzai said it was in line with Islamic law and had been written in consultation with Afghan women’s groups. He did not name the groups.

    “The clerics’ council of Afghanistan did not put any limitations on women,” Karzai said, adding: “It is the sharia law of all Muslims and all Afghans.”

    Karzai’s public backing of the council’s guidelines may be intended to make his government more palatable to the Taliban, or he may simply be trying to keep on the good side of the Ulema Council, which could be a valuable intermediary in speaking to the insurgents.

    But women’s activists say endorsement means existing or planned laws to protect women’s rights may be sacrificed for peace negotiations. “It sends a really frightening message that women can expect to get sold out in this process,” said Heather Barr, an Afghanistan researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

    Shukria Barikzai, a parliamentarian from the capital who has been active in women’s issues, said she was worried that Karzai and the clerics’ council appeared to be ignoring their country’s own laws.

    “When it comes to civil rights in Afghanistan, Karzai should respect the constitution,” Barikzai said. The Afghan constitution provides equal rights for men and women.

    The exception for certain types of beatings also appears to contradict Afghan law that prohibits spousal abuse. And the guidelines also promote rules on divorce that give women few rights, a turnaround from pledges by Karzai to reform Afghan family law to make divorces more equitable, Barr said. “This represents a significant change in his message on women’s rights,” she said.

    Afghan women’s rights activist Fatana Ishaq Gailani, founder of the Afghanistan Women’s Council, said she felt women’s rights were being used as part of a political game.

    Of course women’s rights are being used as part of a political game. This has been the pattern of US policy all during this war on Afghanistan, using the plight of Afghan women to justify the war, and it is also the pattern of US domestic politics. Look at the Democrats attempting to make political hay of the “Republican war on women!” As if Democrats do not participate in the war on women, which has been going on throughout at least most of recorded history? The worst of the sexist mud thrown at Hillary Clinton during her presidential campaign came not from Republicans, but from supporters of Obama, who after Obama won the primary had a field day trashing Sarah Palin!

    Mainstream politics does not care a fig about women’s rights, and especially not when there is a perceived conflict with some political goal, like winding down the Afghan quagmire, or passing the health insurance reform bill. Democrats are used to taking women’s votes for granted, since the gender gap consistently works in their favor. Karzai has demonstrated over and over that women’s rights are a nuisance for him. He pretends to respect rights for women only for the sake of international opinion, but the opinions of his male constituents are what matters to him. If what they consider the proper place of women conflicts with the Afghan constitution, Karzai has no problem giving religion precedence. The Taliban had no monopoly on its extremist interpretation of sharia law regarding women; Karzai is making sure the rights of women do not impede his attempt to work out a political settlement with the Taliban. What exactly has the war on Afghanistan accomplished? As far as women are concerned, the Afghan constitution is a dead letter.

    What I find strange is that anybody did not see this coming. Karzai has telegraphed his true colors on a number of occasions. He is just becoming more obvious about it, and perhaps less concerned about international disapproval of his inexorable drift toward accommodating fundamentalist restrictions on women.

  14. Free Soil Party Blog » Blog Archive » State of the Union 2012 Says:

    […] his tenuous hold on his power than the rights of Afghan women. More about that in this prior entry, Karzai Makes Mockery of Democracy. This more recent article on the sorry state of affairs for Afghan women is from the Christian […]

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