Angry, religious conservatives against Afghan women

2014-06-10 02:53:00

Nazila Isgandarova

Today's Zaman, May 27, 2013, Monday/ 16:41:00;jsessionid=TxEaeBI1R-uCo9b6FDpBKdtd?newsId=316681&columnistId=0

The status of women in Afghanistan came into the limelight again recently as a result of lawmaking efforts in the Afghan parliament.

But this time, the issue is not related to flogging women, women who violated the burqa rule of the hard-line Taliban regime or stoning a woman to death for the crime of being a victim of rape. Religious lawmakers in Afghanistan with a conservative mind set blocked legislation that was introduced in parliament. Their principal argument is that the new legislation is un-Islamic and would make women disobedient by granting them more freedom.

Attempts to improve the status of women in Afghanistan have been quite challenging. Twelve years after the official rule of the Taliban, the government of President Hamid Karzai has made a few efforts to release Afghan women from their current life imprisoned in their own homes, including opening Afghanistan's parliament to women by reserving 60 seats for female lawmakers. These efforts were the foundation for the recent piece of legislation; however, it did not move forward when first introduced, and there was even a step back on women's issues. Therefore, Fawzia Koofi, a lawmaker, women's rights activist and a candidate for president next year, decided to bring the Law on the Elimination of Violence against Women before parliament again in order to prevent any future president from repealing it to satisfy hardline religious parties.

However fierce opposition blocked the bill and prevented it from being endorsed by parliament. They argue that the new legislation has at least eight articles that violate strict Islamic principles. These articles include keeping the legal age to marry at 16 years old for women and 18 years old for men; the establishment of shelters for victims of domestic abuse; limiting the number of wives to two and the criminalization of child marriage, forced marriage, domestic violence against women and enforcing three-year prison terms for women who run away from their homes. It also aims to ban "baad," the traditional practice of exchanging girls and women to settle disputes and the ability to charge rape victims with the crimes of fornication and adultery.

Because of its progressive nature, the new legislation was defeated by the patriarchal mind set of conservatives who use Islam to their own advantage to argue that Muslim women are the property of their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons. Such an approach to Islam is a direct result of conservative readings of the basic sources of Islam.

The main tenets of this kind of reading can be summarized as following. First of all, conservative Muslims believe in male superiority over women because they see women as complementary creatures to men. They argue that women are more prone to make mistakes because of their biological and mental functions and capacities. Therefore, they justify a sexual division of labor in which women must submit to their husbands, fathers or brothers. For them, the main purpose of the creation of women is for men's pleasure. In order to fulfill their “duty” to men, women must be excluded and prevented from active participation in society.

Second, the seclusion of women added to the patriarchal belief that women being active in society leads to the temptation of men and moral corruption; therefore, any attempt to encourage women's emancipation is dangerous and should be blocked.

Third, a conservative approach to women's role in family and public life makes women -- not men -- responsible for any chaos or “sin” that occurs in public life. This reason, in particular, became a subject of heated discussion between the conservatives and liberals in the Afghan parliament. Please, pay attention to how holding women responsible for their own rape became an ugly statement made by a lawmaker, Mandavi Abdul Rahmani of Barlkh province, who said, “Adultery itself is a crime in Islam, whether it is by force or not.” Another conservative lawmaker, Nasirullah Sadiqizada Neli, who is from Daykundi province, also argued that a rape provision in the new legislation would remove the custom of prosecuting raped women for fornication and adultery and would lead to social chaos because it would encourage women to engage in extra-marital sex.

In short, it seems that the conservatives in Afghanistan still live in their narrow patriarchal world that make life hell for women. Although the Taliban regime does not lead the government today, their influence is still strong and visible. It is sad to see that any progressive attempt to improve the lives of women in Afghanistan still faces many challenges. One of the most important challenges is a strict interpretation of Islamic principles, especially those that relate to women.  Without a new egalitarian approach to Islam in Afghanistan, it will be impossible to pass new legislation to improve the status of women in Afghanistan

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