(Source: The New York Times, April 16, 2009, Front Page and A13 for information and image)
Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, April 15, 2009:
While Americans rushed to hand in their tax returns, several hundred Afghan women walked two miles to Parliament to submit a petition to repeal a law that oppresses Shi'ite women's rights.
The law, signed by both houses of Parliament and President Hamid Karzai, is under attack for three specific provisions:
1. Married Shi'ite women cannot refuse her husband's sexual advances;
2. A husband's permission is required before a woman is allowed to work or go to school;
3. A woman cannot refuse to "dress up" or "make herself up" if her husband desires it.
President Karzai has been attacked by many Western groups for his part in the passage of the law, though he attempted to mitigate the impact of the bill by giving it to the justice minister to "look over" and declared that since the law has not technically been published in the government's official register, all women's rights (which are supposedly protected in the Afghan Consitution) will be upheld.
The law is reminiscent of the Taliban and was drafted by Ayatollah Asif Mohseni, the country's most powerful Shi'ite cleric, among other scholars (all of whom are men). Some speculate that President Karzai signed the law because he is up for re-election this year and is trying to garner the support of the Shi'ite clerics.
The women's protest started at the madrasa, School of the Last Prophet, run by Ayatollah Asif Mohseni where they declared that they wished to protect their rights. The women were immediately met by a slew of angry (mostly male) students from the madrasa, who yelled obscenities and attempted to drive the women away. The women had police escorts as they delivered their petition to Parliament.
Meanwhile, some women in Kabul chanted in support of the law.
This event is a good reminder to me to be vigilant of global human rights issues and seek to support those who are not favored by their governments, despite apparent constitutional safeguards.