Unveiling the Lone Female Cop in Kandahar

It's been an arduous drafting process hampered by the public wrangling between forces who want the constitution to enshrine Islamic Sharia law and secularists who want it to embrace liberal traditions. Within the framework of an Islamic state, there are also deliberations on the likely interpretations of Islamic law.

The tussle, experts say, has far-reaching consequences for Afghan women, who suffered some of the worst gender discriminations in modern history during nearly six years of Taliban rule.

‘Bad Blood Price’ and Abuse as a Crime

In an unusual attempt to have a voice in a document that will have broad implications for their daughters and granddaughters, a group of 45 Afghan women gathered in Kandahar last month to draw up a bill of women's rights for the new constitution.

Organized by the New York-based WAW (Women for Afghan Women) and Afghans for a Civil Society, the conference brought together ordinary Afghan women from across the nation, many of whom left their villages and towns un-chaperoned for the first time in their lives.

In their proposed bill, the participants called for mandatory education for girls, freedom of speech, freedom to vote and run for elections and access to health care among a host of demands that Westerners would recognize as the most basic of human rights.

High on the 16-point bill of rights, however, is a particularly detailed demand for protection and security for women that includes calls for the prevention of "criminalization of sexual harassment" and abolition of "bad blood price" — terms that make little sense to most Westerners.

But for the women of Afghanistan — who had widely been declared "free" after the 2001 fall of the Taliban — they are very real, oppressive concerns.

"Bad blood price" refers to the custom of offering unmarried female family members as compensation for crimes committed by one family against another.

The criminalization of sexual harassment is arguably one of the most pernicious issue facing Afghan women in post-Taliban times. According to human rights monitoring groups, a number of female inmates in Afghan jails are women fleeing domestic and sexual harassment, who end up in prisons due to the lack of shelters as well as police reluctance to "interfere" in "household matters."

‘Like the Wild West’

Taliban-style morality policing — where women are arrested for talking to men who are not their relatives or venturing outdoors without a male relative escort, or marham, — are also common outside the capital of Kabul.

In some areas, such as the western Afghan city of Herat, rights workers and medical officials say women arrested for talking to "strange men" in public are forced to undergo "chastity tests" to certify their virginity.

The biggest problem, according to Masuda Sultan, WAW program director, is the arbitrary nature of the unofficial morality codes.

"It's like the Wild West," says Sultan, an Afghan-American who fled her native Kandahar during the Soviet occupation. "You never know what you're going to be accused of. It's not clear, for instance, that traveling without a marham is a crime. Right now, it just depends on the region, on who's the local leader or warlord."

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