Just this week, news broke that Afghan lawmakers blocked legislation that aimed to strengthen women’s freedoms in the country. The worst part is that women were among those who voted against the move.
The Law on the Elimination of Violence against Women, which was instated by presidential decree in 2009, has not actually been passed by parliament yet. It looks to criminalize child marriage, forced marriage, the selling and buying of women to settle disputes, domestic violence, and also stipulates that rape victims will not have to face charges for adultery.
The path of equality for women in the country may have advanced slightly, and I say slightly, since the Taliban ouster in 2001, but this yellow brick road has no colorful rainbow, as of yet, on the horizon.Sophie Ghaziri
When looking at the potential outcome of this decree, if it were to be passed in parliament, we can infer that women’s rights in Afghanistan would take a leap forward. A women’s rights activist and lawmaker, Fawzia Kofi confirmed that women were among those who opposed its upgrade.
Another disappointing aspect of this situation is the fact that Afghanistan was taken out of Taliban hands in 2001, this should have given women in the country the chance to gain their rights and solidify their place in Afghan politics and society.
Opposition towards the presidential decree regarding equality just highlights how shaky women’s rights in the country remain.
Lawmakers told the media, on May 22, that child marriage and protecting female rape victims were the main issues causing a rut in the parliament’s decision making process.
Why? Because some believe banning the custom of prosecuting raped women could lead to certain chaos, assuming that women would take this opportunity to engage in extramarital sex as a new hobby, given the fact they could claim rape if caught.
Women’s rights after 2014
According to Human Rights Watch, the Afghan interior ministry revealed statistics, this month, showing there had been a 50 percent increase in women and girls being imprisoned for “moral crimes” over the last 2 years.
The campaign group stated that most females in Afghan jails are victims of sexually motivated violence and had run away from “their attackers,” which in some cases are members of their own family.
“Four years after the adoption of a law on violence against women and 12 years after Taliban rule, women are still imprisoned for being victims of forced marriage, domestic violence and rape,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW, in a released report.
Another HRW director claims the latest figures depict flagging allegiance, by Afghan authorities, to the cause of women’s rights.
Additionally, since NATO and U.S. troops will be pulling out by the end of 2014, there is the prevailing notion that no one will be keeping tabs on the situation, he claims.
“International donors have made scrupulous plans for the military and security future of Afghanistan, but have completely neglected the need for protection and defense of women and girls’ rights after 2014,” Philem Kine stated, according to AFP.
Afghanistan’s new constitution states that men and women “have equal rights and duties before the law,” and since the fall of the Taliban regime some restrictions on women have been lifted. But, Afghanistan remains a deeply conservative and traditional culture, where women are considered second-class citizens.
Most Afghans still live in rural areas, where poverty, conflict and conservative attitudes are more likely to keep girls and women at home.
“It is imperative for the development of Afghanistan that women are able to exercise their rights and be free from violence in their homes and workplaces,” U.N. Special Representative Jan Kubis said in a statement, Monday.
Despite such calls, the situation on the ground remains stark.
On Wednesday, 200 male students protested in front of Kabul University claiming the presidential decree in question was “imposed by foreigners” and violates Islamic Shariah law.
Mawladad Jalali, the mullah of the university mosque and one of the organizers of the protest, led chants decrying democracy in general and the women’s law specifically, according to a Washington Post report.
This just goes to show that the path of equality for women in the country may have advanced slightly, and I say slightly, since the Taliban ouster in 2001, but this yellow brick road has no colorful rainbow, as of yet, on the horizon.
Sophie Ghaziri is a Shift Editor at Al Arabiya English. She has previously worked as a producer, presenter and a writer at the BBC, Al Jazeera and she was Head of English at Future News in Lebanon for 2 years. She can be followed on Twitter on: @sophieghaziri