London ¬ Thursday March 8, 2012
Back to the bad old days: Karzai beats retreat on women's rights
President gives support to religious edict that reads: 'Men are fundamental, women are secondary'
President Hamid Karzai has backed guidelines issued by Afghanistan's religious council [Scroll down to read details] that relegate women to the position of second-class citizens, raising questions about whether British soldiers should continue to put their lives at risk for a government that seems prepared to sell out on the issue in order to engage the Taliban in a peace deal.
The Afghan leader endorsed the repressive guidelines on Tuesday, the same day that six British soldiers were killed in an explosion in Helmand province. "Men are fundamental and women are secondary," the 150-member Ulema Council said in a statement that was subsequently posted on Mr Karzai's own website. It also said that men and women should not mix in work or education, and that women must have a male guardian when they travel.
Mr Karzai's endorsement, which came on the eve of International Women's Day today, is seen by critics as a huge step back in the effort to promote women's rights after the Taliban was displaced by the US invasion of the country in 2001.
Under the Taliban, girls were banned from going to school and women were not allowed to leave their homes without a male relative as an escort.
Activists add that the new clerics' code of conduct is unconstitutional and that President Karzai's endorsement sets a worrying precedent for negotiations with the Taliban.
A spokesman for the British embassy in Kabul said: "We support women's rights in Afghanistan. We have made clear that any political settlement should be inclusive and address the concerns of all Afghan citizens. Our strategy remains to work with those in Afghan society who are advocating reform, in order to build support for full application of the Afghan Constitution, which upholds equal rights for both men and women."
The clerical guidelines are not legally binding and are described as "voluntary" for women who are devout. But if the rules became the norm, they would prevent male and female volunteers at organisations such as Young Women for Change (YWC) working together to empower women across Afghanistan.
YWC was set up last April by two young Afghan women, Noorjahan Akbar and Anita Haidary, but quite early on the founders realised they would be able to be much more effective if they got men involved.
The collaborative approach was one of the reasons Tayeb Khan, 22, decided to become a volunteer five months ago, an unusual move for a young Pashtun man in Afghanistan. "When I saw the organisational structure, men and women working together in a friendly environment, I wanted to come and be part of it," he said.
To mark International Women's Day, YWC is opening a female-only internet café in Kabul that will be dedicated to Sahar Gul, the teenage girl who was tortured and kept for months in her husband's dank cellar after refusing to enter into prostitution.
Many internet cafés in Afghanistan are full of men browsing internet porn and are off-putting to women.
Zafar Salehi, a 24-year-old YWC volunteer, struck a decidedly different note to the one implied by the guidelines backed by President Karzai. He said: "Now women can get connected with the world without harassment."
Another YWC volunteer, Mohammad Jawad, told The Independent: "Unless you let the other 50 per cent of society participate in society you will never progress and never develop."
Dublin ¬ Friday 09 March 2012
Women-only internet cafe opens in Kabul
Afghanistan opened its first women-only internet cafe yesterday, hoping to give women a chance to connect to the world without verbal and sexual harassment and free from the unwanted gazes of their countrymen.
Swarms of hijab-wearing young visitors poured into the small cafe on a quiet street in central Kabul on International Women’s Day in a country where women still face enormous struggles even though the Taliban were toppled over a decade ago.
“We wanted women to not be afraid, to create a safe place for women to use the internet,” said Aqlima Moradi, a 25-year-old medical student and member of Afghan activist group YoungWomen4Change, which set up the cafe. The modest cafe was named after Sahar Gul, a 15-year-old Afghan girl who was brutally tortured last year by her in-laws for refusing to become a prostitute.
“There are a lot of Sahar Guls in Afghanistan. There are women every day facing violence,” said Mohammad Jawad Alizada (29) from the group’s male advocacy wing, who oversaw the cafe’s creation – (Reuters)
7 March 12 (ARR Issue 426)
Afghan Clerics' Conservative Blueprint for Women
Restrictive proposals look like attempt to court Taleban.
By Mina Habib - Afghanistan
As Afghanistan prepares to mark International Women’s Day on March 8, rights groups have expressed concern at a set of restrictive measures proposed by the country’s Council of Religious Scholars. Other commentators suspect the Islamic clerics of trying to win over insurgent groups like the Taleban by publicly espousing conservative views.
The 150-member council issued a “code of conduct” last week calling for segregation of the sexes in the workplace and in education, and barring women from travelling unless accompanied by a close male relative.
President Hamid Karzai appeared to back the scholars, stressing their knowledge of religious matters, and claiming that their code was not discriminatory.
The announcement angered Afghan women like Yalda, who works for a foreign organisation, and said clerics would do better to speak out against real abuses and injustices.
“Are the killings of innocent people, mutilations, violence, bribery, theft of state and private land, drug smuggling and other crimes in accordance with the provisions of Koran?” she asked. “If not, why doesn’t the Council of Religious Scholars issue a declaration on those issues? Why does it focus only on women?”
Latifa Sultani, coordinator of the women’s rights section at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, AIHRC, said the proposals, which include allowing men to beat their wives under certain circumstances, were troubling.
“We are concerned about the increasing growth of fundamentalist thought,” she said. “Women already face various restrictions on a daily basis.”
Sultani said the AIHRC would be seeking a meeting with the Islamic council in the near future.
Last month, Afghanistan’s ministry of information and culture called for female TV presenters to avoid heavy makeup and to wear headscarves. Some attributed the instruction to pressure from religious scholars.
The Council of Religious Scholars is backing government-led peace negotiations with insurgent groups, and some observers conclude that its new public stance on women’s rights is part of a policy of appeasement.
“In view of the current political situation, I believe this declaration is of political rather than practical intent,” political analyst Mahmoud Saiqal said, arguing that the government wanted to “show the Taleban that their demands for Islamic precepts to be implemented is acceptable, and that they should trust it and continue with the negotiations”.
Wida Ahmad, head of the Afghanistan Social Adjudicators’ Association, also suspects the clerics of attempting to engage with the Taleban in pursuit of reconciliation. But she said their proposals would never become reality.
“Over the past ten years, Afghan women have achieved political maturity and they aren’t going to accept this kind of pressure,” she said. “There are still some people in government who have Taleban-like ideas, and they are against all kinds of female participation in various areas of public life, but their efforts will be futile.”
Shahla Farid, a lecturer in law at Kabul university, noted that the ideas set out by the clerics ran counter to the Afghan constitution, which proclaims equal rights for men and women.
“Why doesn’t the Council of Religious Scholars issue declarations and regulations when Afghan women are sexually abused, forced into marriage, and have their civil and Islamic rights violated?” she asked. “The council is always trying to harass women. It has never done anything to ensure the rights of women in society.”
IWPR called Maulavi Qiamuddin Kashaf, who chairs the clerical council, for further information about the statement, but he refused to comment.
Keramatullah Sediqi, director of Islamic research at the ministry for the Hajj and religious affairs, said that while the statement was founded on Islamic law, it would be impractical to enact it.
“In my opinion, implementing this decision is impossible,” he said. “Many accuse the government of failing to implement Islamic precepts, and I think the government wants to respond to such accusations via this move, and thereby to create a dialogue between itself, the public and its opponents.”
Afghanistan’s ministry of women’s affairs refused to comment on the matter, with deputy minister Mozhgan Mostafawi saying preparations for International Women’s Day meant she had no time to give an interview.
Others played down the significance of the scholars’ statement.
Hawa Alam Nuristani, a former member of parliament, said the proposals should not be taken too seriously.
“Qiamuddin Kashaf has been in many meetings with us, and is someone who has always supported women’s rights,” she said.
Farid, a university student, said that he believed the council’s new stance was mere posturing ahead of the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan in 2014, and was driven by fear of what would happen to the Islamic clerics on the council once the Taleban gained the upper hand.
“The Taleban aren’t stupid enough to believe these symbolic declarations,” he added.
Mina Habib is an IWPR-trained journalist in Kabul.