Afghanistan: one step forward, one step back?

It is no surprise that Afghanistan has consistently ranked at the bottom of the Global Peace Index. Some good news came today when the top United Nations official in the country, Mr Ján Kubiš, stated that more than a quarter of MPs and senators in the country are now female, highlighting that this is “one of the most striking changes in Afghanistan since the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban, which had sharply curbed the role of women.”

“This is a higher percentage than many long-standing democracies, and is because of the organization and advocacy of women’s activists at the time of the Constitutional Loya Jirga (assembly),” he continued. “These elected representatives have had a strong voice not just on specifically ‘women’s’ issues but important perspectives, and leadership, on everything from reconciliation to economics.”

He went on to say that female participation in Presidential and Provincial Council elections on 5 April will be “a key measure of success” of the polls.

However, despite these positive developments, there are serious concerns about a potential new law that threatens to silence women who are the victims of violence.

 The new Afghan law would in fact allow men to attack their wives, children and sisters without fear of judicial punishment, undoing years of slow progress in tackling a culture of violence.. The bill, which would prevent people from testifying against family members, both from birth and marriage has been sent to the president, Hamid Karzai, who will have the final say on whether or not it is put in place. The law would make it impossible for victims of domestic abuse to seek justice in a court of law. In a country that still has child-brides and ‘honour’ killings, this would be a terrible relapse of women’s rights.

Over the past few years the world has been shocked by the plight of young Afghan women who have been assaulted and brutally disfigured by their own family, in-laws and husbands. Under the proposed law, these women would have no avenue to accuse or prosecute their abusers.

Afghan women’s rights activists hope to stall the signing of the bill, in a bid to see it dropped. Karzai has been in power since the fall of the Taliban and the constitution bars him from standing for election again, so that the country will have a new president.  Afghanistan will go to the polls on the 5th of April, later this year.

Let’s continue to make our voices heard in support of Afghan women.

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