Outrage over Afghan law legalizing rape in marriage
Updated Wed. Apr. 1 2009 5:54 PM ET
A new Afghan law that dramatically inhibits the rights of women, including reportedly legalizing rape within marriage, has raised the ire of Canadian politicians from all parties, who are demanding that President Hamid Karzai clarify his position on the legislation.
The new law, which conflicting reports say has either passed or is still under consideration, would apply to the country's Shia minority. It would reportedly make it illegal for a woman to refuse to have sex with her husband and forbid her from leaving home without her husband's permission.
The law would also reportedly grant custody rights to fathers and grandfathers.
During a heated debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday, NDP Leader Jack Layton expressed his disappointment in the law and asked the Conservative government how it plans to respond.
"Can the government tell us today how it's going to express the disappointment of the Canadian people with regard to these laws that attack women?" Layton asked during question period.
International Trade Minister Stockwell Day reiterated comments he made Tuesday about the law, saying the government has asked for an explanation from Karzai.
"What is very clear, is that we are concerned with the provisions in this law as we see them," he said, "and we are calling unequivocally upon the government in Afghanistan to make sure they live up to their international treaty obligations for human rights, especially human rights for women."
NDP defence critic Dawn Black said news of the legislation would be disheartening to the thousands of Canadian soldiers who have served in Afghanistan.
"The government has said over and over again that the underpinning of this mission was to defend women's rights and to provide education for girls," Black said. "Mr. Speaker, after all the sacrifices, after all that Canadian families have put on the line, could this really end up being what we're fighting for in Afghanistan?"
Earlier Wednesday, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff sharply rebuked the Afghan government upon hearing of the legislation.
Ignatieff said that he is "outraged on behalf of Afghan women. Citizens of that country deserve better."
Karzai has yet to comment on the law. However, reports indicate the legislation has Karzai's support, according to Michael Wodzicki of Rights & Democracy.
"It seems more that it's a question of politicking in the sense that Afghanistan is having elections in August, President Karzai is up for election, and from what we can tell this law is a part of that process, in terms of Mr. Karzai trying to get votes from the Shia population," Wodzicki said Wednesday on CTV Newsnet.
On Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, who was attending a conference on Afghanistan in Europe, spoke to two Afghan cabinet ministers about the law. Cannon has yet to comment on what came of those discussions.
In 2001, NATO troops forced out Afghanistan's ruling Taliban regime, which strictly followed sharia law. Under Taliban rule, women could not attend school, hold jobs, go out in public uncovered or see a male doctor without being accompanied by a male relative.
While Afghanistan's current constitution guarantees equal rights for women, it allows the Shia to have a separate family law that is based on religious traditions.
According to Wodzicki, human rights groups work with Afghan politicians and citizens to ensure that laws reflect the Afghan constitution as well as other, more progressive, laws that are passed in other countries.
However, it's work that could take generations.
"Culture is something that takes years, decades, even centuries to develop. And when we're talking about developing a culture of human rights and a culture that protects women's rights in Afghanistan, it's not going to take place in the eight years that has passed since the fall of the Taliban," Wodzicki said. "This is a long-term endeavour."
Jordan's Queen Noor, speaking to CTV Newsnet Wednesday, said that Islam "provides protections and equal rights to men and women."
While noting she hasn't read the entire law, Queen Noor added it likely contravenes both Islamic laws and human rights conventions.