Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai Passes Controversial Law Limiting Women's Rights

Karzai vowed to review bill limiting Shiite women's rights, but backed out.

ByABC News
August 14, 2009, 10:34 AM

KABUL, Afghanistan Aug. 14, 2009 — -- A controversial bill that Afghan President Hamid Karzai promised to review before implementing quietly became law last month, allowing police to enforce language that stipulates a wife's sexual duties and restricts a woman's ability to leave her own home.

Karzai had promised to send the bill to parliament before it was published, but this week women's rights advocates learned it had already become an enforceable law despite heavy international and national criticism.

The Shiite Personal Status Law, which applies to the country's minority Shiite women, was originally even more pernicious than the final version. In March a western embassy translated a portion of the law as defining a woman's role as "readiness for sex and not leaving the house without the husband's permission."

Instead, the final language requires Shiite women to give their husband "their sharia rights" when it comes to sex, a reference to Islamic law. And it allows women to leave their own homes "according to local customs."

But human rights advocates say the new language is just legal cover for husbands to subjugate their wives.

"It's symbolic with our society, which is a male dominated society -- it somehow approaches a woman as a second class citizen and approaches a woman more as property than a human being," says Orzala Nemat of the Afghan Women's Network.

Less than one week before Afghanistan holds only its second ever contested election, the news of the law's publishing -- which still has not been widely disseminated -- is unlikely to affect Karzai's expected victory.

But the way it was put on the books is being held by critics of the government as evidence that Karzai has used state machinery and backroom deals to guarantee his reelection. They argue that Karzai initially agreed to push the law through in order to please powerful Shiite clerics, who promised him votes. Shiites represent 10 to 20 percent of Afghanistan.