Student Op-Eds

Afghan Women’s Rights Setback

Rands Keasler ’16  Women in Leadership

When the topic of women’s rights comes up, we immediately jump to the issues in the United States that women face. Wage gaps, abortion rights, and equality are extremely important, but we frequently forget that around the world few countries have achieved the rights for women that we have. Afghanistan has recently been in the spotlight for a bill that was passed by parliament and was submitted in February 2014 to President Hamis Karzai for signature and approval; the bill illustrates the variations of progress in women’s rights internationally.

The “anti-women gag law” is the name this new bill gained around the world, especially from human rights activists. The bill excludes parents, grandparents, or siblings from testifying in court cases of domestic violence. Proponents of the bill argue that the family cannot be objective. Many others see this bill as a restriction of women’s rights and a violation of human rights. Additionally, it is an enormous step back from the gains Afghan women have achieved. In 2009, a law was passed in Afghanistan called the Elimination of Violence again Women (EVAM), which criminalized acts of child marriage, rape, and other forms of violence against women. It was great progress for women’s rights.

The main issue with the anti-women gag law is it in essence lets perpetrators walk free, as most violent acts against women occur within family structures. This bill would give relatives or any family member the right to do whatever they want to women and fear no repercussion. National Geographic reports that many “Afghan women only see relatives and are only seen by relatives” every day of their lives. This bill would be silencing victims of domestic violence.

Groups around the world reached out showing their opposition to the bill. This not only included signed protests but human rights organizations taking stands. The bill was only waiting for President Karzai’s signature in order to be enacted. Human Rights Watch was one group that called upon the president, asking him to refrain from signing it into the Afghan penal code. One of the reasons this bill came to being proposed is the withdrawal of the International community from Afghanistan. International troops, including the Americans, have begun to pull out and have lost a great deal of their influence. This has been a great factor in the backslide of women’s rights, from their treatment in parliament to the increase in reports of attacks on women.

President Karzai declined to sign the bill on February 17, 2014. He backed away from the bill claiming it needed to be amended, which takes the bill off the table for the time, but does not fully kill the bill. The fact that a proposal that hinders women’s rights to this extent was able to pass in the parliament shows the extremes of different countries. Around the world, the fight for women’s rights is not over. Comparing the United States to Afghanistan does not mean the United States is finished either. The United States still faces prejudices and inequalities. Afghanistan represents a country that is at the very beginning stages of gaining human rights, and the women have a long road ahead.