KABUL, Afghanistan — Conservative religious lawmakers in Afghanistan blocked legislation on Saturday aimed at strengthening provisions for women’s freedoms, arguing that parts of it violate Islamic principles and encourage disobedience.
The fierce opposition highlights how tenuous women’s rights remain a dozen years after the ouster of the hard-line Taliban regime, whose strict interpretation of Islam once kept Afghan women virtual prisoners in their homes.
Khalil Ahmad Shaheedzada, a conservative lawmaker for Herat province, said the legislation was withdrawn shortly after being introduced in parliament because of an uproar by religious parties who said parts of the law are un-Islamic.
“Whatever is against Islamic law, we don’t even need to speak about it,” Shaheedzada said.
The Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women has been in effect since 2009, but only by presidential decree. It is being brought before parliament now because lawmaker Fawzia Kofi, a women’s rights activist, wants to cement it with a parliamentary vote to prevent its potential reversal by any future president who might be tempted to repeal it to satisfy hard-line religious parties.
The law criminalizes, among other things, child marriage and forced marriage, and bans “baad,” the traditional practice of exchanging girls and women to settle disputes. It makes domestic violence a crime punishable by up to three years in prison and specifies that rape victims should not face criminal charges for fornication or adultery.
Kofi, who plans to run for president in next year’s elections, said she was disappointed because among those who oppose upgrading the law from presidential decree to legislation passed by parliament are women.
Afghanistan’s parliament has more than 60 female lawmakers, mostly due to constitutional provisions reserving certain seats for women.
There has been spotty enforcement of the law as it stands. A United Nations analysis in late 2011 found only a small percentage of reported crimes against women were pursued by the Afghan government. Between March 2010 and March 2011 – the first full Afghan year the decree was in effect – prosecutors filed criminal charges in only 155 cases, or 7 percent of the total number of crimes reported.
The child marriage ban and the idea of protecting female rape victims from prosecution were particularly heated subjects in Saturday’s parliamentary debate, said Nasirullah Sadiqizada Neli, a conservative lawmaker from Daykundi province.
Neli suggested that removing the custom – common in Afghanistan – of prosecuting raped women for adultery would lead to social chaos, with women freely engaging in extramarital sex safe in the knowledge they could claim rape if caught.
Another lawmaker, Mandavi Abdul Rahmani of Barlkh province, also opposed the law’s rape provision.
“Adultery itself is a crime in Islam, whether it is by force or not,” Rahmani said.
He said the Quran also makes clear that a husband has a right to beat a disobedient wife as a last resort, as long as she is not permanently harmed. “But in this law,” he said, “It says if a man beats his wife at all, he should be jailed for three months to three years.”
Lawmaker Shaheedzada also claimed that the law might encourage disobedience among girls and women, saying it reflected Western values not applicable in Afghanistan.
“Even now in Afghanistan, women are running from their husbands. Girls are running from home,” Shaheedzada said. “Such laws give them these ideas.”
More freedoms for women are one of the most visible – and symbolic – changes in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led campaign that toppled the Taliban regime. While in power, the Taliban imposed a strict interpretation of Islam that put severe curbs on the freedom of women.
For five years, the regime banned women from working and going to school, or even leaving home without a male relative. In public, all women were forced wear a head-to-toe burqa, which covers even the face with a mesh panel. Violators were publicly flogged or executed.
Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, women’s freedoms have improved vastly, but Afghanistan remains a deeply conservative culture, especially in rural areas.
Saturday’s failure of the legislation in parliament reflected the power of religious parties but changed little on the ground, since the decree is still the law of the land, however loosely enforced. Kofi said the parliament decided to send the legislation to committee, and it could come to a vote again later this year.
“We will work on this law,” she said. “We will bring it back.”
Some activists, however, worry about potential changes to the law. Bringing the legislation before parliament also opened it up to being amended, leaving the possibility that conservatives will seek to weaken it by stripping out provisions they dislike – or even vote to repeal it.
“There’s a real risk this has opened a Pandora’s box, that this may have galvanized opposition to this decree by people who in principle oppose greater rights for women,” said Heather Barr, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.
That’s true for lawmaker Rahmani, who said President Hamid Karzai should never have issued the decree and wants it changed, if not repealed.
“We cannot have an Islamic country with basically Western laws,” he said.
(Source: The Huffington Post)
“Crisis-Induced Devotion” and the Importance of Church-State Separation
Think back to your school days, when your class would recite the Pledge of Allegiance. If you looked around the classroom during the exercise (and of course most of us did from time to time, even though we were supposed to be focused on the flag), would you see a room filled with fine young patriots, standing upright with hands squarely over hearts, reciting the words with great seriousness and solemnity, pondering the meaning of each phrase?
If your school was like mine, it probably fell a bit short of such a patriotic ideal. Slouched, half-awake students, mumbling the words and giving little thought to their meaning, were as common as the upright patriots. In the lower grades, terms like “allegiance” and “indivisible” were often mispronounced and misunderstood. By high school the exercise had lost much of its mystique, not because kids are unpatriotic, but mainly because the pledge was seen as rote recitation that was required by authority figures.
Perhaps recalling such lackluster attitudes from their school days, some people seem to think governmental religious references are meaningless, not worth disputing. Every now and then, for example, when I’m discussing a church-state issue, someone will throw out a question that has nothing to do with legalities, but instead raises a more practical angle: Why are you fighting over this? Does it really matter? The issue might be “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, a crèche on a public park, or “In God We Trust” as the national motto: “What’s the big deal?”
There are many reasons why church-state separation is a big deal (indeed, the fact that a valid constitutional claim is being raised should, in itself, qualify the matter as a legitimate “big deal”), but there is a psychological component to such issues that sometimes gets overlooked amid all the legal analysis. This component, which I call “crisis-induced devotion” (or “CID”), illustrates why governmental religiosity, while sometimes appearing benign and unimportant, is always at least potentially dangerous.
CID shows us that what appears mundane, given the right stimulus, can quickly become extremely intense. CID occurs, for example, when a person who is not particularly religious or patriotic suddenly becomes fervent about their religion or patriotism due to some external crisis that triggers intense devotion.
A case in point is that of Jessica Ahlquist, a young student from Cranston, Rhode Island, who initiated a church-state lawsuit in 2011 to remove a prayer banner hanging from her public high school’s gymnasium. The lawsuit, perceived by her community as challenging God and religion, provided a psychological stimulus that caused her classmates, who had previously been as outwardly apathetic about religion and patriotism as any other public school population, to suddenly experience a surge of righteousness. During her homeroom recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, classmates turned to her and shouted “Under God!” to emphasize that they - and their religious views - were patriotic, and that Jessica was an outsider…
When Saudi Arabia announced three months ago that girls as young as 10-years old would now be allowed to marry, Iran decided to drop the age limit even further.
Iranian Christian news service Mohabat News reports a member of the Iranian Parliament (Majiles) Mohammad Ali Isfenani, “we must regard 9 as being the appropriate age for a girl to have reached puberty and qualified to get married. To do otherwise would be to contradict and challenge Islamic Sharia law.”
He argues,”Before the revolution girls under 16 were not allowed to marry. Parents determined to get around the law would often tamper with their daughter’s birth certificate. Under the previous constitution, people were legally regarded as adults when they were 18. After the revolution the age at which children were regarded as going through puberty was lowered to 9 for girls and 15 for boys.
Mohabat News reports statistics that show over the past few weeks, over 75 female children under 10 were forced to marry much older men. And in nearly 4000 cases, both the bride and groom were under 14.
The Examiner says according to a news release from the Parliamentary Legal Affairs Committee, the current civil law, drafted before the revolution in the late 1970’s regarding the legal age of marriage for girls under the age of ten, is considered “un-Islamic and illegal.”
Majiles (Iranian Parliament) is now expected to vote on the proposal to bring civil law more in line with Sharia Law.
The Women’s News Network reports that there are more than 10-million girls under the age of 18 married each year around the world, usually without their consent and to much older men.
Baroness Jenny Tonge, chair of a British parliamentary inquiry looking at the issue of child brides, tells the Women’s News Network, “We decided to look into child marriage because some two, three years ago we did an investigation into maternal mortality.” “We realised that one of the major causes of maternal death is early marriage, and (that) the girls are married so young that their bodies are simply not ready for child birth.” She tells the story of one young girl, “she was an eight-year-old who was married to a 45 to 50-year-old in Yemen, arranged by his family – died three days later after the first intercourse from bleeding. When you hear the stories, it just makes you feel quite sick.”
A report from the British inquiry is expected early this fall.
"Seek not to follow in the footsteps of men of old; seek what they sought."
Topless Women in Public Not Breaking the Law Says NYPD
Ladies of New York , you are free to walk bare-breasted through the city! New York City’s 34,000 police officers have been instructed that, should they encounter a woman in public who is shirtless but obeying the law, they should not arrest her. This is a good step towards gender parity in public spaces.
This decision means that breast exposure is not considered public lewdness, indecent exposure, or disorderly conduct. It also notes that, should a crowd form around a topless woman, the officer should instruct the crowd to disperse and then respond appropriately if it does not. Relative coverage is no longer a factor.
This policy shift comes after several years of litigation and protest. In the 1992 case People v. Ramona Santorelli and Mary Lou Schloss, the New York Court of Appeals ruled in favor of two women who were arrested with five others for exposing their breasts in a Rochester park, holding the law void as discriminatory. The ruling was put to the test in 2005, when Jill Coccaro bared her breasts on Delancey Street in New York, citing the 1992 decision, and was detained for twelve hours. She subsequently successfully sued the city for $29,000.
In 2007, Go Topless, a national organization supporting gender equality in shirtlessness laws, established Go Topless Day. Dozens of women protest – often topless – in thirty cities around the United States, promoting equal rights to be shirtless. Protests usually include chants of “Free your breasts. Free your minds” and a song “Let ‘em Breathe” to the tune of the Beatles’ “Let it Be.”
While some who have witnessed these events have suggested that “[t]his is extreme liberalism and why America’s in decline” or “[i]t’s degrading to women,” others have been supportive. One man even said he would encourage his wife to join them.
Though bare-breasted women might shock the sensibilities of some in the public, it is encouraging to see the police responding positively to gender bias, even on such a seemingly small scale. After all, no one thinks twice about a man shirtless on a summer day. However, the female nipple or chest is still considered “lewd.” By reminding its officers of this, the NYPD is publicly declaring that it will no longer perpetuate unconstitutional gender discrimination, a standard to which all law enforcement should be held and a decision for which it should be applauded.