Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, the hand-picked American choice to lead that new government after the U.S. invasion, had previously been known to most Americans, due to his poor leadership skills in governing his country, as the reclusive mayor of Kabul. But over the last several weeks he has become better known for evoking worldwide outrage for his endorsement of and push for human rights violations against women in his own country.
Karzai is being rebuked by human rights and women's rights activists, as well as the United Nations for introducing what can only be described as Taliban-style subversions of women's rights in Afghanistan, as well as the sabotage of the Afghanistan constitution in the form of a new law ridiculously labeled "Shiia Family Law."
This law was hurriedly passed in the two houses of Parliament and signed by the president without any debate on the issue. The law's critics say that President Karzai signed the legislation for political gains with conservative extremists prior to the country's upcoming presidential election.
The law has gotten the most attention for a provision legalizing the rape of a wife by her husband. This is surely its most shocking aspect, as it was purportedly designed to regulate family life inside Afghanistan's Shiite population, which makes up about 10 percent of the country's 30 million people, according to Associated Press reports. There are fears — and rightly so — that this type of law will eventually become the law of the land for all Afghani women.
The new law denies Afghan Shiia women the right to leave their homes except for "legitimate" purposes, whatever that means. It also forbids women from working or receiving education without their husband's permission. The law diminishes a woman's right to inherit property from her husband. And it makes legal the underage marriages of female children for dowries. The law requires a husband's permission for a wife to get health care and other related services.
Critics are rightly concerned that the legislation undermines the hard-won rights for women that were put in place after the fall of the Taliban's strict Islamic regime. The United States is said to have expressed concern regarding the law as was stated by State Department spokesman Robert Wood: "We urge President Karzai to review the law's legal status to correct provisions of the law that limit or restrict women's rights," the Associated Press reported.
Other NATO countries have also expressed concern over this new law because they are also sending troops, both men and women, to fight in Afghanistan and support that government when discrimination against women is now being condoned by law. The Italian defense minister said that he was considering a temporary withdrawal of the women serving in its force in Afghanistan to protest the law, Reuters reported.
Why should women from any country put their lives on the line in support of a government that would diminish the rights of women in the exact way that the Taliban that they helped to overthrow did?
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 decrees made by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the 1990's. This is another clear indication that the human rights situation in Afghanistan is getting worse, not better," the New York Times reported.
And there are definite signs that a resurgent Taliban is gaining the type of influence that they had before they were ousted in 2001. They enjoyed having ultimate power and control by banning women from being out in public without wearing full-body covering burquas while being escorted by a male family member. They were unable to work or vote or attend schools. A return to this type of situation would be a huge setback in a country that is already known to treat its women worse than any other country in the world. This should not be allowed to happen.
Today millions of girls in Afghanistan attend school, although we have heard of incidents when they have been attacked and disfigured with acid for doing so. Women who live in cities and towns also work and own their own businesses and even participate in the government. Although women who live in rural areas are less likely to have the same advantages, too much is at stake for the women of Afghanistan to allow President Karzai to sacrifice the gains made thus far for so many, in favor of his own political future. The futures of the women of Afghanistan are far more important.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Carol Jensen is a long-time Barstow resident, graduating from Kennedy High School and Barstow College, where she was an English instructor for many years. Much of her time now is spent writing political and social commentary. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.