A controversial law for Shiites in Afghanistan has sparked wide-spread condemnation and a debate about women’s rights in the war-torn country. On Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke with Afghan President Karzai over the phone and expressed concerns about it.
Most Afghani women cannot leave their house unless their fathers or husbands give them permission
The US, Britain, Canada, Germany and the United Nations have strongly denounced the controversial new Afghan law for the Shiite minority community in Afghanistan, calling it oppressive.
At the NATO summit in Strasbourg over the weekend, US President Obama said the law was ‘abhorrent’, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was unacceptable.
"It fundamentally violates the equal rights of men and women. We have discussed the matter with Afghan president Karzai," said Merkel.
The law was endorsed by parliament and President Hamid Karzai last month.
It intends to regulate family life inside Afghanistan's Shiite community, which makes up about 15 percent of the country's population.
The UN says the law actually bans a Shia woman from leaving her home except for emergency purposes and prohibits her from inheriting her husband’s property when he dies.
However, the most controversial part is article 132, which says the wife 'is bound to have sexual relations with her husband every fourth night'.
Critics see this as a licence for rape within marriage.
Nasrullah Stanikzai, who teaches law at the University of Kabul, says it underscores a clear deterioration in the status of Shia women:
"This law is aimed at justifying male inclinations. In its current form, it will create problems for women," says Nasrullah. "It doesn’t comply with international law as well."
The government denies that the law is against women's rights. Speaking with German radio in Kabul earlier the Afghan women affairs minister Husen Bano Qasanfar said:
"In Afghanistan, no law could be passed that restricts the freedom of women, because the principle of equality is enshrined in our Constitution. In case parts of this law violate the constitution, then we will definitely review and amend it."
Some observers say the fact that the law has been signed shows that the fundamentalist forces are gaining strength in the country.
Others say President Karzai approved it for political gains and for the support of Shiite voters in the run-up to the country's presidential election due in August.
President Karzai, who has so far insisted the law has been misinterpreted by the West, has now put a hold on it and ordered a review.
The justice ministry has also confirmed the law will not come into force until it has examined the problematic text and made sure it abides by the government’s commitment to women’s rights.