In 2009, Afghan President Hamid Karzai used his powers of presidential decree to put a law to protect women on the books. This weekend the measure failed to gain parliamentary approval, raising once more the question of whether women's legal rights will be a casualty of Afghanistan's political and security transition.
Afghanistan's law on the "elimination of violence against women" is regularly used by women's advocates and lawyers to jail those who force girls into marriage, marry off girls as young as 10 or 11, force women into prostitution, or use females to settle disputes between families. The law also for the first time in Afghan history defines rape as a crime in the country's penal code. Marital rape also is also considered a crime under the measure.
The measure has long been a target of Afghanistan's conservative forces, who see it as far too liberal. The idea of sanctioning women's safe houses, or shelters, which already exist around the country, and prosecuting husbands for marital rape provoke particular ire. Parliamentarians, whose ranks include conservative clerics, raised both issues on Saturday when female lawmakers brought the measure to the fore. After only a few minutes of debate, the parliament's speaker shut down the discussion amid calls for the bill to be tossed out entirely.
The strategy of taking the measure to parliament for debate had split Afghan women activists.