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Women's law

Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi / romMarch 8, 2013

A draft law that would end violence against women is being debated in the Afghan Parliament. But it is finding little support among MPs, who feel that it violates traditional values.

Afghan Parliamentarians listen to a speech by President Hamid Karzai (not in picture) during the opening session of Afghan Parliament in Kabul, Afghanistan, 06 March 2013. (Photo: EPA/S. SABAWOON +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++)
Parlament Afghanistan 2013Image: picture alliance / dpa

It has been three years since Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a decree to end violence against women. The draft law, which is supposed to allow women more freedom and protect them from violence, has yet to be adopted in parliament. But courts can use it as a basis for their work.

Opponents of the decree say it contradicts Sharia - the moral code and religious law of Islam. Most of the proponents, however, are among the 68 women in parliament, for whom a quarter of the seats are reserved. They are trying to reconcile a modern interpretation of Islam with the law.

"They are all fundamentalists and extremists," Member of Parliament (MP) Masooda Karochi told DW. "If a lunatic protests that this law is against Sharia, then you can imagine what consequences it can have." Sharia proponents make it impossible to have a constructive discussion, she noted.

A twelve year old Afghan bride during the wedding ceremony in Herat on Sunday 25 December 2005. (Photo: FARAHANAZ KARIMY +++(c) dpa - Report+++)
The law would make 12-year-old brides a thing of the pastImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Controversy over the age of marriage

For supporters of Sharia law, physical abuse should not be considered an act of violence against women, Masooda Karochi said. But because physical abuse of women is the norm in Afghanistan, Karzai's decree has allowed women to report incidences of domestic violence, leading to the break up of several families.

In the draft, the legal age of marriage is 16 - another thorn in the side of its opponents. Basing their argument on Islam, they say that the beginning of puberty determines when a girl can be married. Also, Sharia stipulates that fathers alone can make decisions on whom their daughters marry and when.

Law provokes violence

The draft law is also provoking its opponents because it says that women should be allowed to work. "Islam says that a woman cannot work outside the house unless she has her husband's permission. It is the responsibility of the man to fulfill all the needs of his wife," said MP Sayed Hossain Alemi Balkhi. "If this is the case, then the man certainly has the right to expect his wife to ask for his permission before she leaves the house."

Afghan Parliamentarians listen to a speech by President Hamid Karzai (not in picture) during the opening session of Afghan Parliament in Kabul, Afghanistan, 06 March 2013. (Photo: EPA/S. SABAWOON)
A quarter of the seats in the Afghan Parliament are reserved for womenImage: picture alliance / dpa

Balkhi believes that it is all propaganda - an effort by activists and local media, who are trying to draw attention to violence against women. And instead of trying to curb violence against women, they are only fueling it, he said. "Let's say your husband beats you and you leave for a women's shelter. You leave your home because your husband beats you. Then you stay there waiting for him to come and take you back."

The MP believes the law would not end abuse. "The husband would definitely end up killing his wife the next time. Instead of curbing violence, the law provokes it further." This view is widespread among conservative MPs. And the arguments of the proponents of the draft law, especially the female MPs, fall on deaf ears.

A symbolic law

Even if the draft law to end violence against women were to be passed, it would hardly change their situation. Aziz Rafi, who heads the Afghanistan Civil Society Forum, believes the battle is lost.

"Afghan law is very problematic and complicated. There is a lot of corruption. We doubt that the law will help curb violence against women," he told DW.

Afghan women are not pinning their hopes on this draft law. Their continued support for it is more about sending a clear signal.