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05/22/2013

Afghan women's rights: half a step forward, two steps back

Koofi parliament

Fawzia Koofi, third from left, in the Afghan parliament. (Tom Hanson/ The Canadian Press)

She has braved death threats and assassination attempts so a few religious hardliners in parliament probably isn’t a big deal for Fawzia Koofi.  The brave Afghan politician tried but failed on Saturday to push through a vote in parliament on the controversial Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

The hardliners blocked the legislation.  To give a sense of Koofi’s uphill battle, MP Khalil Ahmad Shaheedzada told The Associated Press: “Whatever is against Islamic law, we don't even need to speak about it.” 

Quite what is unIslamic about banning child marriage, forced marriage, domestic violence and the practice of families exchanging females to settle disputes is unclear. 

The 60 female parliamentarians cannot expect help from their president Hamid Karzai either. He introduced the law by presidential decree in 2009 but it has not been ratified by parliament. He has not taken on the might of the religious fundamentalists to speak up for women.

Koofi tried to bring the vote into parliament on Saturday so it could be signed into law which would prevent future presidents from repealing it. 

But the fight is not yet over. Progressive Afghans are hitting back.

A coalition of 100 Afghan civil society groups have released a statement calling on parliament, the government and the international community to pass the law and reminded them of their obligations to safeguard Afghan women.

“While Afghanistan has too much to prove on good governance and eliminating corruption front, the law remains as one of few landmark achievement to bring pride to this nation to avert all the images of past brutality and medieval treatment of women in the country,” the statement from Afghan Civil Society read.

Humayun Bayani, a scholar put the responsibility on the shoulders of the Afghan government.  

"The question now is whether President Karzai’s government will submit to the traditionalist and conservative elements and appease them and the Taliban by keeping quiet about the law or will it push for its enactment?" he wrote in Eurasia Review.  

Koofi who plans to run for president in the 2014 elections chided her opponents in a tweet:  “Afghan leaders need to adjust themselves with societal changes of Afghanistan, a small group tries to block any progress.” 

READ MORE: Fawzia Koofi plans to run for Afghan president

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at the Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is the author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour

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