Pressure to scrap Afghan women’s law

Law legalises rape within marriage

Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, came under intense western pressure yesterday to scrap a new law that the UN said legalised rape within marriage and severely limited the rights of women.

At a conference on Afghanistan in The Hague, Scandinavian foreign ministers publicly challenged the Afghan and the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, was reported to have confronted Karzai on the issue in a private meeting.

Clinton said, ‘This is an area of absolute concern for the United States. My message is very clear. Women’s rights are a central part of the foreign policy of the Obama administration’.

The Guardian reported that Karzai had signed the controversial law last month. The text has not yet been published but the UN, human rights activists and some Afghan MPs said it included clauses stipulating that women cannot refuse to have sex with their husbands, and can only seek work, education or visit the doctor with their husbands’ permission.

International aid officials say the law violates both UN conventions and the Afghan constitution. It is widely seen as a political ploy by Karzai to win support from conservative Muslims in presidential elections scheduled for August.

Mark Malloch Brown, Britain’s foreign office minister for Africa, Asia and the UN, expressed ‘dismay’ over the law’s impact on women’s rights.

‘We are caught in the Catch-22 that the Afghans obviously have the right to write their own laws,’ he said. ‘But there is dismay. The rights of women was one of the reasons the UK and many in the west threw ourselves into the struggle in Afghanistan.’

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