Thursday, April 16, 2009

Out of the Harem

Yesterday there were meaningful protests, without props and artifice from wingnut radio hosts. Women in Afghanistan took heart and turned out to show that they are not willing to accept law embodying their status as property.

Afghanistan lawmakers have produced a law applied to Shiite Muslim women that declares that they are husbands' chattels and must get permission to work or attend courses, and every four days they have to give sex whether they want to or not. No corresponding law applies to husbands' earning the right to make demands or deny privileges.

The Taliban which promoted these laws is Sunni, so is embodying caste prejudice in law. Under U.S. invasion tactics, a weak government has used capitulation to Taliban demands to shore up its failing reign.

About 300 women protested Wednesday in Kabul against a new Afghan law that restricts their freedom, including the right to deny their husbands sex.

During a two-mile march to the parliament building, the demonstrators were heckled by an angry crowd of men, The New York Times reported. One group of women, encountering men yelling at them and calling them "whores," quickly climbed back on their bus.

Police kept the hecklers away from the marchers.

The law applies only to Shiite Muslims, a minority in Afghanistan. It was passed by parliament and signed by President Hamid Karzai, effectively giving Shiite clerics legal authority to enforce religious beliefs.

The most controversial provisions are those that allow husbands sex on demand, that require women to get permission from their husbands to work or attend school and that turn women into lawbreakers if they do not dress attractively for their husbands.

"Whenever a man wants sex, we cannot refuse," Fatima Hussein, a 26-year-old protester, told the Times. "It means a woman is a kind of property, to be used by the man in any way that he wants."

While the Taliban enforced similar laws when it was in power, the group is Sunni and persecuted the Shiites.

If this country supports the Afghan government with our funds, it should refuse to condone these hateful laws. There are sanctions available to us, and our efforts to rebuild wartorn facilities should be directed toward those that are not party to the recidivism of groups acting to refuse women rights. Shoring up a failing government has only enabled the operative forces like Taliban to make insupportable laws against women part of its working agreement with Karzai.

The wingers like to insist that liberal thinking does not acknowledge gains made by women under western military dominance. This is another example that nothing of the sort has occurred. When we leave the societies of the middle east to develop without our invading forces, they will search out what works best for their societies.

If women's rights are ever to come out of this morass, it will not be achieved by force from the western world. For a functioning society, it is past time for us to end the negative effects of force, and let the best interests of their own people work toward equal status for all of its members.

The courage of Afghan women, who know they will suffer for insisting on their rights, reassures me that they are ready for that struggle - one we are still involved in here in the west.


Horrible rape and murder tactics being used in Darfur by Sudan's government should be denied any rewards. is asking you to sign a petition to corporations doing business with Sudan to bring a pressure that even that barbaric government will have to acknowledge and make the concession of decency.

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