On Saturday, Afghanistan’s Elimination of Violence Against Women Act — a mandate issued in 2009 by President Hamid Karzai — was debated to gain Parliamentary approval. However, conservative MPs and mullahs quickly claimed that the decree was “un-Islamic,” objecting to at least eight of the secular provisions of the legislation, including keeping the legal age for marriage 16, providing shelters for victims of domestic abuse, and limiting the number of wives permitted to two instead of four.
After two hours, the debate was dismissed and the law was sent back to the committee.
“Today, the parliamentarians who oppose women’s development, women’s rights and the success of women … made their voices loud and clear,” Afghan MP and women’s rights advocate Fawzia Koofi, who led the initiative to seek Parliamentary approval for the decree, told Reuters on Saturday.
Koofi, the first female member of Afghanistan’s new parliamentary government and a survivor of a Taliban ambush due to her outspokenness on women’s rights, was firm on the need for parliamentary approval as opposed to the less protected presidential decree. Her reasoning is that with upcoming elections in less than a year, there is no guarantee that a new, more conservative government wouldn’t scrap the law entirely; parliamentary approval would cement it, making it more difficult to overturn.
“2014 is coming, change is coming and the future of women in this country is uncertain,” she said. “A new president will come and if he doesn’t take women’s rights seriously he could change this decree.”
However, many other Afghan women’s rights advocates were against taking the law to parliament, concerned that the law could be scrapped entirely and unnecessarily put hundreds of women’s lives on the line.
Currently, the Elimination of Violence Against Women Act — the first law of its kind in Afghanistan — bans child marriage and the practice of selling women and girls to pay off family debts, and identifies rape, domestic abuse and assault as violence against women. Although the law is less than perfect in many women’s rights advocates eyes — as it does not contain a clear definition of an honor crime and is only enforced in 4 % of cases where it is relevant — it has nevertheless protected hundreds of women by putting their perpetrators behind bars and being a source of accountability.
However, its future is tenuous. As 2014, and the ensuing presidential elections and withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan approaches, its future, along with the future of other gains since the fall of the Taliban such as the right to education and work for women, remains uncertain. Many women’s rights advocates fear that though there has been significant progress in the provision of women’s rights in Afghanistan, these gains are fragile and could deteriorate and disappear without the international attention and support that has been a part of the U.S. presence.
For the time being, the law will remain in effect.