New Afghan Law a Dramatic Abrogation of Women’s Rights

Deepali Gaur Singh

The international community played a role during the drafting of the Afghan constitution, ensuring seats for women in Parliament. Now this is the time to follow up on those principles that they enshrined for the Afghan people.







Afghan President Hamid Karzai
recently signed a law outlining gravely regressive rights infringements for
Shiite women, to outcry in Afghanistan and around the world.  The last time the world was as appalled by
events in unfolding Afghanistan was when the Taliban began making inroads in
the country in the mid-1990s and imposed its diktat everywhere they left
footprints. The horror was more specifically in reaction to their imprint on
women’s rights or the restrictions on women. From constraining medical care and
banning employment, education, and free movement in the public sphere, the Taliban’s
power and control over women was absolute. The punishment for non-compliance
included public executions, stoning and flogging. The exceptions were few and
far between – for instance, widows in the poppy-rich province of Kandahar (also
the Taliban’s traditional bastion) who were allowed to tend to their poppy crop
— and came not from an understanding of the widows’ financial insecurity but
rather out of the militia group’s own dependence on the illegal poppy harvest for
funding their campaigns.

Over a decade
later, despite seven years of NATO presence to achieve normalcy in the violence-scarred
country and against the background of a democratic government, the world
watches in shock yet again – and, quite ironically, not for very different
reasons. The collective dismay and outrage over the Taliban regime did not
translate into much for the Afghan women in the 1990s; it took a 9/11 for the
world to "rescue" them from atrocities institutionalized via the Taliban’s ministry of
vice and virtue, leaving behind festering wounds of fear and brutality that are
yet to heal.

Now, under a
democratically elected government – which the US and its allies helped install –
the world watches, stunned yet again, at the recent
‘Afghan Shiite Personal Status Law,’
which, in addition to dictating the
conditions for marriage, divorce, inheritance, education, employment and free movement (the law says women can only
leave home with the explicit permission of their husbands except in certain
emergencies), also dictates sexual activity within marriage for women, thereby
legalizing marital rape and gives custody of children to fathers and
grandfathers. (Article 132 mandates that "the wife is bound to give a positive
response to the sexual desires of her husband." Furthermore, if her husband is
not travelling or sick, the wife is required to have sex with him at least
every fourth night, the only exception being the wife’s own illness.) Article
133 states, "the husband can stop the wife from any unnecessary act." Wifely duties also include "making herself up" or "dressing up" for her husband. In
addition, the legal age of marriage for Shiite women has been lowered from
eighteen to sixteen. The law consists of
approximately 250 detailed restrictions that apply to the minority Shia
community only, comprising 15% of the total Afghan population, making the invasion of personal space and privacy complete.

Quite
ironically, the Hazaras, most of whom constitute the Shia minority of
Afghanistan, have been one the groups that have had fewer restrictive freedoms for women when it comes to education and
employment, even in the post-Taliban era of limited liberty. Many of the important bureaucratic, administrative or political
positions held by Afghan women in the country are often represented by Shia
Hazara women. For instance, Afghanistan’s only woman governor and mayor belong to this community,
as does the head of the Afghan Human Rights
Commission. Over the years they have also grown their presence in the
entertainment industry, whether it be Afghanistan’s
version of "American Idol,"  the "Afghan Star" or as veejays of MTV-style programs.  This progress hasn’t been without backlash, as
evidenced in the controversial and sensational murder of Shaima
Rezayee
, who was amongst the first Afghan women to be seen publicly without
a headscarf post-Taliban. Hazara women do not wear full-body covering burqas. Thus,
not only does the law legalize and institutionalize oppression of women but
appears to be designed to encourage the very men who have opposed women’s oppression to degrade women (wives) of their
community.



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Currently, many of those opposing the law believe that the law was conceptualized by conservative religious radicals and members of the
political and administrative elite who, in the past, have consistently targeted
women’s rights and free speech initiatives in the country, including opposing
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These are the same groups of men who
continue to support polygamy and the right of elderly men to marry very young
girls – without any age restriction – and blame the spread of AIDS in the country
on soap operas and music videos on Afghan TV; men
with pasts of brutal violence who have themselves been embroiled in
controversies like sexual abuse, horrendous human rights violations, mass rapes
and sexual violence and yet enjoy political power as they occupy seats in
Parliament, important political appointments and hence critical legislative
powers.

National and international
outrage over the law has delayed its passage; President Karzai, in damage
control mode, admitted to "problems" in the law, which quite evidently violates
the rights of women in every way imaginable. While he reiterates his commitment
to equal rights for men and women as enshrined in the Afghan constitution, the
timing of the law has been politically linked to the forthcoming elections in
August. He is seen as an embattled president hoping to score with the powerful
right-wing radicals in his run-up to re-election. As critics around the world
are accusing the President of selling out to extremists, ironically though
hardly surprisingly, praise for him comes from a disquieting quarter – the
Taliban – which is often described as an "enemy of Afghanistan" by the
president himself.

Provisions under the Afghan
constitution allow Shiites to pass their own family laws based on their legal
traditions.



If such a law is
indeed passed, it, in effect, opens a Pandora’s box of similar
discriminatory laws, in the name of maintaining ethnic identity and diversity
by religious conservatives amidst other minority ethnic groups.

The recent violence in Kabul
against a group of
women protesting the marriage law
points to how culture and tradition can
clash with critical issues of reproductive and sexual health, especially in a
country where medical facilities and care are not as easily accessible to
women. The march organized by women’s rights activists and attended by mostly
young women was swamped by counter-protesters – both men and women – who pelted
stones at the demonstrators. The law has backers who accuse "foreigners" of meddling
in Afghan affairs. But can the issue be simplified to the rights of the Shiite
community versus human rights with regard to women? Many groups have
now jumped into the fray to work
out proposals taking into account Islamic traditions of fairness, justice,
tolerance to revise the controversial legislation, focusing on reform within
the Family Code. That the family law has to be developed keeping the rights and
health of both women and children at the forefront is even more critical in a
war ravaged society where suicide
rates
amongst women have shown a phenomenal increase; women increasingly
see this as the only escape from the violence they face with some hospitals
reporting as many as 600 suicide attempts in a year. With one of the highest
fertility rates in Asia, as an average Afghan woman bears 6-7 children,
according to the UNFPA, the fervent opposition to contraceptives and condoms by
conservative groups makes the situation even more precarious. The infant
mortality rate is estimated at 127 per 1,000 live births. And the maternal mortality
rate
too is high, with at least two Afghan women dying from
pregnancy-related complications every hour. Additionally, according to recent
statistics about 25% of women in the country are subjected to sexual violence; 30.7%
suffer physical violence, in most cases by husbands or other family members and
another 30% suffer from psychological violence. Against this extreme
vulnerability and with Afghanistan the opium granary of the world, opium abuse
has also registered an increase amidst women to numb the pain and compensate
for the inadequate health care available to them.

The international community
played a role during the drafting of the Afghan constitution, ensuring seats for
women in Parliament, and now this is the time to follow up on those principles that
they enshrined for the Afghan people. Seven years into international troop
presence and fighting the Al Qaeda and Taliban it is time that pressure is also
mounted on institutions within the
government to promote and develop a culture of human rights. Countries that
have invested directly in development funds for women’s rights and family law
reform should hold the Afghan government accountable for progress in this
direction. In the past, every time the President was attacked for the Taliban’s
resurgence in the country, he was quick to point out the steps forward with regard
to women’s health, rights and representation and girls’ education. The new law
now makes bogus all such claims even as it clearly breaks the promises made by
Kabul to the international community over protection of human rights.

Moving forward on human rights
for women has to be a significant component of the international engagement in
Afghanistan – especially since that was one of the pretexts of direct military
engagement in Afghanistan apart from the "war on terror" and the "war on drugs."
While funding governments have long been careful to keep a distance from
domestic policy decisions in Afghanistan, this might not be the time to be
evasive using the pretext of cultural difference. If a stable sustainable
democracy is the goal, Afghan women have to be viewed as a critical
component towards the achievement of that goal and not as mere sacrifices at
the altar of immediate political maneuvers.

News Contraception

New Hawaii Law Requires Insurers to Cover a Year’s Supply of Birth Control

Nicole Knight Shine

Insurance companies typically cover only a 30-to-90-day supply of birth control, posing a logistical hurdle for individuals who may live miles away from the nearest pharmacy, and potentially causing some using oral contraceptives to skip pills.

Private and public health insurance must cover up to a year’s supply of birth control under a new Hawaii law that advocates called the nation’s “strongest.”

The measuresigned by state Gov. David Ige (D) on Tuesday, applies to all FDA-approved contraceptive medications and devices.

Hawaii joins Washington, D.C., which also requires public and private insurers to cover up to 12 months of birth control at a time.

Oregon passed a similar measure in 2015, but that law requires patients to obtain an initial three-month supply of contraception before individuals can receive the full 12-month supply—which the Hawaii policy does not.

“At a time when politicians nationwide are chipping away at reproductive health care access, Hawaii is bucking the trend and setting a confident example of what states can do to actually improve access,” Laurie Field, Hawaii legislative director for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, said in a statement.

Insurance companies typically cover only a 30-to-90-day supply of birth control, posing a logistical hurdle for individuals who may live miles away from the nearest pharmacy, and potentially causing some using oral contraceptives to skip pills. Both the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend supplying up to one year of oral contraceptives at a time, as the Hawaii Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection, and Health noted in a 2016 conference report.

Fifty-sex percent of pregnancies in Hawaii are unintended, compared to the national average of 45 percent, according to figures from the Guttmacher Institute.

Women who received a year’s supply of birth control were about a third less likely to experience an unplanned pregnancy and were 46 percent less likely to have an abortion, compared to those receiving a one- or three-month supply, according to a 2011 study of 84,401 California women published in Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Reproductive rights advocates had championed the legislation, which was also backed by ACOG–Hawaii Section, the Hawaii Medical Association, and the Hawaii Public Health Association, among other medical groups.

“Everyone deserves affordable and accessible birth control that works for us, regardless of income or type of insurance,” Planned Parenthood’s Field said in her statement.

Commentary Politics

A Telling Response: Trump’s Mistreatment of Women Evokes Yawn from GOP Leadership

Jodi Jacobson

Republican leaders have been largely dismissive of Donald Trump's misogynistic track record—which speaks volumes about the party's own treatment of women.

This weekend, the New York Times published the results of interviews with more than 50 people, many of whom attested to the fact that in both private and public life, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump made “unwelcome romantic advances” toward women and exhibited “unsettling workplace conduct over decades.” Translation: He objectified, sexually harassed, and made unwelcome comments and advances toward women with whom he worked, whom he met in social settings, or who participated in his reality show empire. He even, according to one person quoted in the Times, sought assurance that his own daughter was “hot.” Yet GOP leadership has been largely dismissive of Trump’s track record—which speaks volumes about the party’s own feelings on women.

While important in its detail, the Times story is anything but surprising. Trump is a historical treasure trove of misogynistic behavior and has talked about it openly. In an interview with Esquire, for example, Trump stated: “You know, it doesn’t really matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.” He has frequently made derogatory comments about the looks of female politicians, journalists, actresses, and executives: He’s claimed that “flat-chested” women can’t be beautiful and mused about the potential breast size of his infant daughter. He’s suggested that sexual assault in the military is “expected” because men and women are working together and that the thought of someone pumping breast milk is “disgusting.”

Forgive me if I am not shocked that reports indicate he’s no feminist. Female voters know this: Even conservative news outlet National Review fretted about the fact that both Trump and former presidential aspirant Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) are both highly unpopular among female voters, noting that “seven out of ten women (67 percent) have an unfavorable view of Trump, and only 26 percent view him favorably… and [some] polls have his unfavorability ratings among women even higher, at 74 percent.”

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In interviews this weekend, the Times‘ report elicited what was effectively a yawn from Reince Priebus, chair of the Republican National Committee, the guy charged with leading the GOP both in terms of the party’s platform and in helping its candidates across the country get elected. On Sunday, Fox News‘s Chris Wallace asked Priebus whether the reports of Trump’s mistreatment of women bothered him. Priebus responded by asserting that “people just don’t care” about all these stories, although when pressed, he suggested that Trump would have to answer to his own statements.

But that dodges the question. Priebus is the head of the party and also needs to take responsibility for his nominee’s behavior, as does the party itself. He did not say, “I deplore the remarks Trump has made during the campaign,” or, “as a party, we need to reflect deeply on why our candidates and policies are so deeply unpopular among a group that makes up more than half the U.S. population.”

Priebus said none of that. He just shooed the issues away. The fact he did not even attempt to address the substance of the Times article is the most telling news of all.

The real problem is that it’s the GOP leadership that just doesn’t care. This morning, the Guardian reported that “After a week of make-up meetings with Donald Trump, Republican party leaders have arrived at a new strategy to accommodate their presumptive presidential nominee: ignore his problematic attitude to women, his tax issues and his fluctuating positions on trade, immigration, foreign relations and a host of other topics, and instead embrace the will of Republican voters.”

The reality is that Trump’s “problematic attitude toward women” is not an isolated problem. For the GOP leadership, it is not a problem at all, but the product of their fundamental policies and positions. The GOP has been waging war on women’s fundamental rights for nearly two decades; it’s just gotten more brash and unapologetic about the attitudes underlying the party’s policies. The GOP is full of candidates who think pregnancy resulting from rape is a blessing; who minimize and stigmatize the role of access to contraception and abortion in public health and personal medical outcomes; who demonize and marginalize single mothers; and who won’t pay for basic services to help the poor. The GOP platform is built on policies that seek to deny women access to reproductive and sexual health care, including but not limited to abortion, thereby also denying them the right to self-determination and bodily autonomy. So the fact that both the party leaders and the media spun themselves into a tizzy when Trump suggested he would imprison women who had abortions was all theater. That is GOP policy.

The GOP majority in Congress and in state legislatures continues to deny low-wage workers—the majority of whom are women—living wages, labor protections, and paid family leave. At the state level, Republican governors and legislators have obliterated funding for education, child care, aid to single-parent families, aid to children with disabilities, and basic health-care services. And Trump is far from unique in this election cycle among GOP presidential candidates: Republicans in the running from Ted Cruz on down have used women as objects when it is convenient, with Cruz going so far as to parade his two young daughters on the campaign trail in bright pink dresses, seemingly to underscore their “innocence” and to stoke fear of transgender persons seeking access to the most basic facilities, though many of those are young girls themselves.

It’s not only Donald Trump’s mistreatment of women. It’s that the GOP’s platform is based on sheer misogyny, and the leadership has to ignore it or they’d have to rethink their entire platform and start from scratch.