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March 6, 2012

A council of clerics has put forward a series of recommendations to President Karzai that would drastically restrict women's rights in Afghanistan. Activists fear the government might bow too easily to the pressure.

Image: AP

"Women are a by-product of creation," states a declaration put last week by a senior council of Islamic scholars and mullahs to President Hamid Karzai for implementation. The recommendations of the Ulema Council, which has some 3,000 members, stipulate further that women should accept the leading role of men in all walks of life, without resistance.

Women should not work with men who are not their relatives or travel without a close male relative. Moreover, they should respect the right of men to engage in polygamy.

"The Ulema Council's recommendations are in no way tantamount to a restriction of women's rights," Karzai said in his first statement. "The council has always defended women's rights. It wants Islamic law that is binding for all of us who are Muslims."

Afghan women clad with traditional burqas walk through a soccer field as a man relaxes in Kabul, Afghanistan
If the Ulema Council gets its way men and women will be separated in all walks of lifeImage: AP


This attitude has angered many in Afghanistan, especially women's rights activists and the country's more liberal forces. None have forgotten the days when women were barred from public life under the Taliban.

"It is stated very clearly in our constitution that the rights of men and women are equal before the law," says Member of Parliament Aryun Yun. "I don't understand why the council has made recommendations that go against our country's constitutional law."

Yun calls on Hamid Karzai, as the first citizen of the country, to protect the rights that are anchored in the constitution. She fears women could end up imprisoned within their own homes again.

"At the moment, men and women work together. If the government implements the recommendations they will all lose their jobs. In no other Islamic country in our region is Islam practiced in this way. I suspect there are political motives. Women's rights are being sacrificed for political purposes."


Many experts suspect political motives to also be behind Karzai's actions. Zia Rafaht, a journalist and university lecturer, thinks the government will do anything to make contact with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami. Many of the warlord's former confidants already occupy key positions in the government, including Minister of Culture and Information Karim Khoram, who wants less press freedom.

Rafaht says the government is playing a dangerous game and could lose the support of the international community as well as that of its own people by implementing the recommendations. He and other observers fear Karzai is willing to give up on constitutional democracy in his eagerness to find new allies for after 2014, when international troops are due to have left Afghanistan.

Afghan women demonstrating
In the past, women have taken to the streets to demonstrate against discriminationImage: DW

"Yet, it's not even certain that Kabul will manage to push the Taliban into cooperating even if women's rights are restricted," says Rafaht.

The Taliban, who want to create a religious state, have so far rejected all attempts at peace talks from Kabul.

Author: Ratbil Shamel / act
Editor: Sarah Berning