Afghan Activists Consider New Marriage Law Just As Oppressive as One That Legalized Marital Rape

July 13, 2009 - 11:08 AM
A group of Afghan civil society activists rejected a revised version of a contentious marriage law in a letter distributed Monday, calling the amended legislation just as oppressive as the original that critics say legalized marital rape.

This April 15, 2009, file photos shows Afghan Shiite women carrying banners during a march against a new conservative marriage law in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq)

Kabul (AP) - A group of Afghan civil society activists rejected a revised version of a contentious marriage law in a letter distributed Monday, calling the amended legislation just as oppressive as the original that critics say legalized marital rape.
 
President Hamid Karzai signed the original law in March but quickly suspended enforcement after governments around the world condemned it as oppressive. Although the law would apply only to minority Shiites, critics saw it as a return to Taliban-style oppression of women by a government that was supposed to be promoting democracy and human rights.
 
The revised draft, which must be approved by parliament, deletes sections that said a woman needed to ask her husband's permission to leave the house and ordered her to be ready for sex at least every four days. But the activists said in a letter to the president that other articles are so little changed that the overall law is still unacceptable. A copy of the letter sent to officials last week was e-mailed to The Associated Press on Monday.
 
Issues such as polygamy, women's right to work, and to refuse sex have only been addressed "with slight changes in the wordings of the law, rather than changes in content," the letter states.
 
Though the section about submitting to sex every four days has been deleted, other articles remain that give a husband power to order sex, said Shinkai Kharokhel, a lawmaker from Kabul who has been involved in attempts to reform the legislation.
 
For example, a section explaining that a husband must provide financially for his wife also says that he can withhold this support if she refuses to "submit to her husband's reasonable sexual enjoyment," according to a translation of the article supplied by Human Rights Watch.
 
Such an exception is equivalent to saying a husband can starve his wife if she is refusing to have sex with him, Kharokhel said.
 
"Most (Afghan) women are illiterate and they don't have financial security and no one will give her money ... shelter, medical, food, all these expenses belong to the man, and he can hold that back," she said.
 
Other parts of the revised law restrict a woman's right to leave the house and to work, she said.
 
Even so, Kharokhel said she felt that the deletions of some of the most publicly controversial articles showed the government was trying to address women's rights issues and said she was hopeful that the law would be further revised.
 
It is a view seconded by many women's rights activists. Wazhma Frogh, who works with a human rights law group called Global Rights and was one of the drafters of the letter, said the amendments that were changed to delete restrictions on women "shows their support for women's rights issues."
 
Frogh said the letter was agreed to by more than 50 civil society groups, though no group signed the letter by name. She said signatures were not omitted out of fear, but with the idea that the missive should be seen as representing Afghan women rather than a few groups in Kabul.