Standing up for women
There's been much reaction to yesterday's news about Afghan President Hamid ''He's a putz but he's our putz'' Karzai's move to sanction rape and other abuse of women just so he can grab a few votes.
The new Afghan family law would reportedly make it illegal for Shia women to refuse their husbands sex, leave the house without their permission or have custody of children.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, speaking in London, England, on Wednesday, says he's 'deeply troubled' by Afghanistan's new family legislation.Prime Minister Stephen Harper, speaking in London, England, on Wednesday, says he's 'deeply troubled' by Afghanistan's new family legislation. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
"We're deeply troubled by it. And I don't think we're by any means alone," the prime minister said during an interview in London ahead of the G20 talks that begin on Thursday.
"Making progress on human rights for women is a significant component of the international engagement in Afghanistan. It's a significant change we want to see from the bad old days of the Taliban," he said.
"I think President [Hamid] Karzai and those other actors who may be supporting this policy will find themselves under considerable pressure," Harper said.
Karzai's office has so far refused to comment on the legislation, which has been criticized by some Afghan parliamentarians and a UN women's agency but has not yet been published.
Many Canadians, who want our troops outta there, are asking what the Harper government plans to do about the situation.
So here's the latest from Parliament:
Hon. Jack Layton (Toronto—Danforth, NDP): Mr. Speaker, yesterday, in response to a question from the New Democrat member for New Westminster—Coquitlam, the government said:
Can the government tell us today how it is going to express the disappointment of the Canadian people with regard to these laws that attack women? Will it tell us what real consequences there are going to be for the government of Afghanistan and whether the mission and its purpose will be reconsidered in this context?
Hon. Stockwell Day (Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, CPC): Mr. Speaker, our Prime Minister has expressed serious concerns with this Afghanistan law. Our Minister of Foreign Affairs has done that also and continues to do that. The status of the law is still unclear, even among the Afghan legislators themselves.
However, what is very clear is that we are concerned with the provisions in this law as we see them. We are calling unequivocally upon the government in Afghanistan to make sure it lives up to its international treaty obligations for human rights, especially human rights for women. We are very clear on this.
L'hon. Jack Layton (Toronto—Danforth, NPD): Monsieur le Président, cette loi donne tous les droits aux hommes concernant la garde d'enfants, le divorce et l'héritage et on permet le voile. C'est une atteinte très très grave aux droits des femmes en Afghanistan. De plus, 116 de nos soldats sont morts pour changer les choses en Afghanistan.
Comment le gouvernement peut-il dire que nos soldats sont morts pour protéger les droits des femmes, alors que Hamid Karsaï fait adopter cette loi?
Si l'Afghanistan va de l'avant avec cette loi, le gouvernement est-il préparé à reconsidérer son approche en Afghanistan, oui ou non?
Hon. Stockwell Day (Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister has indicated and we continue to indicate that this could have serious implications. Other countries that are helping the people in Afghanistan have also expressed concern.
We are being very clear on this. What we know about this law causes us serious concerns. We are calling on the government of Afghanistan to live up to its obligations, to clarify its position on where it stands and to make sure that the human rights of all people, including and especially the human rights of women, are protected to the full extent of their obligations.
Ms. Dawn Black (New Westminster—Coquitlam, NDP): Mr. Speaker, for years now, the government has ridiculed anyone in the House who dared to question what was going on in Afghanistan. The government has said over and over again that the underpinning of this mission was to defend women's rights and to provide education for girls.
After all the sacrifices and all that Canadian families have put on the line, could this really end up being what we are fighting for in Afghanistan? Will the minister stand up immediately in the House today and tell us he will take decisive action to force Hamid Karzai—
The Speaker: The hon. Minister of International Trade.
Hon. Stockwell Day (Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, CPC): Mr. Speaker, with due respect, we have been very clear on this. I have to say that I do not really appreciate a question being raised about what our soldiers have been standing for.
They have been standing for the protection of human rights. They have been standing for the protection of women. They have been standing for the protection of children. They have literally been giving their lives for that. That is why we are concerned about this.
But is the status of the law ''unclear?'' That remains ... unclear.
Soraya Sobhrang from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission campaigned against the law. She has criticised long-standing Western silence over the issue which she said had been "disastrous for women's rights in Afghanistan".
"This law legalises all violence which happens against women in Afghanistan," she told the BBC. "They will lose their rights we have in our constitution."
The law covers members of Afghanistan's Shia minority, who make up 10% of the population.
It was rushed through parliament in February and has now been approved by President Hamid Karzai.
But the BBC's Mark Dummett in Kabul says that the final version has not yet been made public, and the president has not yet commented on it.
Which makes me think that it's a done deal.