Women’s rights hit new low in Afghanistan

Afghanistan remains one of the most dangerous places for women, and recent changes to national law will not improve matters, writes Barbara Matera.

By Barbara Matera MEP

11 Mar 2014

Afghanistan is currently one of the most dangerous areas in the world for women, with domestic violence and suppression against women being one of the most important issues, among other security and human rights protection missteps, which the Pakistani government has yet failed to cure. 

The European parliament has, on numerous occasions, passed resolutions calling for the Afghanistan government to repeal all laws which give rise to discrimination against women and which breach the international treaties to which Afghanistan is a party, emphasising that gender equality and women's rights should constitute the key aspects of Afghanistan's national development strategy

Nevertheless, in one of the most recent and disturbing developments, a new law passed by the Afghan parliament allows men to attack their wives, children and sisters without fear of judicial punishment, undoing the slow progress achieved in tackling violence in a country blighted by so-called honour killings, forced marriage and vicious domestic abuse.

The small but significant proposed change to Afghanistan's criminal prosecution code bans relatives of an accused person from testifying against them. 

The law, being approved by the parliament, awaits the signature of the president, Hamid Karzai, who, under the pressure of the international community and civil society, announced on 17 February that amendments to the law were necessary, sending it back to the parliament. If such law were allowed to pass, it would effectively silence victims, as well as most potential witnesses. 

However, this development should be viewed very cautiously considering that the law was sent back to the parliament with amendments that were not made public.

"Afghan society is still male dominated, restricting women from their fundamental rights and freedoms which human rights organisations so vigorously fought for"

Shortly before news of the cabinet order spread, a justice ministry official told UK newspaper the Guardian that western embassies had simply "misunderstood" the law, and that he expected the confusion would be resolved soon and without any changes needed. 

Women's position in Afghanistan has not improved to the extent expected since international attention turned to the country. Afghan society is still male dominated, restricting women from their fundamental rights and freedoms which human rights organisations so vigorously fought for.

In March 2012, president Hamid Karzai endorsed a "code of conduct" which stated that "women should not travel without a male guardian and should not mingle with strange men in places such as schools, markets and offices." Karzai said that the rules were in line with Islamic law and that the code of conduct was written in consultation with Afghan women's group." 

This incident is a warning sign on the direction women's rights will follow in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the US-led coalition forces.

We, as the European community, should be alert in this process and should immediately address every issue presented by guiding Afghanistan in becoming a modern civil society that respects the rights of its people without discrimination over their gender, their religion or any other basis.

A society where every member has an equal place in the country's social and economic development.

Read the most recent articles written by Barbara Matera MEP - EU must speak out against 'honour killings'

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