Halima Karzai is Director of Foreign Policy and International Women’s Issues at the Independent Women’s Forum.

President Hamid Karzai has ordered the review of the Shia Personal Status Law, a recent law he passed which has Articles in direct violation of existing laws protecting women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Per the Afghan constitution, Shiites and Sunni’s can form their own personal status laws pertaining to issues of marriage, divorce, child custody, etc.  Although the law applies to the Shia minority, between 10-15% of the population, it hinders women’s political, civil, social, and economic rights. It has raised grave concern and criticism worldwide for legalizing the rape of women by their husbands.

Below are just a few of the Articles in direct violation of the Afghan constitution, The Declaration of the Essential Rights of Afghan Women, CEDAW (signatory), and the Convention on the Rights of Children (signatory):

Article 122: Tacitly accepts child marriage by laying out dowry provisions for marriage between minors.

Article 132: Legalizes the rape of a wife by her husband.

Article 133: Subjects a woman’s right to work, education, access to healthcare and to other services to her husband’s authority/permission.

Article 161: Legalizes divorce proceedings with the simple requirement that two male witnesses must be present.

Article 177: Denies a woman the right to leave her home without her husband’s permission.

Article 226: Regulates inheritance rights between couples. Men inherit both moveable and immovable property from a deceased spouse, while women inherit only moveable property from a deceased spouse.

Despite the worldwide alarm, how surprised can we be with the ratification of such a law? Seats in the Afghan Parliament are filled with warlords and human rights violators who have committed some of the worst war crimes against humanity. But rather than pressing for the removal of such barbarians, elements within the international community continue to support them.

The international community’s objective to “liberate Afghan women” led to the creation of laws to preserve and protect the rights of women and girls in the country.  Despite continuous efforts made to improve the lives of women and girls, things are increasingly deteriorating for them.   

Women in Afghanistan are denied their basic human rights on a daily basis. Little girls continue to become child brides and girls and women are bartered like animals. Families are afraid to send their girls to school for fear of being attacked or kidnapped.

The ratification of such a law further exemplifies how existing laws to protect women hardly function in practice.

Afghan women don’t need laws to hinder the modest progress they have made. What they need is implementation of existing laws that were created to treat them as humans and with dignity and respect.

This law only raises eyebrows and makes one question the quality of progress that has been made for women in a democratic Afghanistan. This unfortunate circumstance should illustrate to the international community how recognition and enforcement of existing laws protecting women’s rights is vital.

With any luck, the law will be annulled and will avert future personal status laws from obstructing the rights of Afghan women.

Halima Karzai is Director of Foreign Policy and International Women’s Issues at the Independent Women’s Forum.