Today, all over the world, the One Billion Rising campaign will see millions of women survivors of abuse – and those who love them – raise their voices to call for an end to violence against women and girls. On this day of hope and strength, please rise for Afghan women whose rights are at risk of being traded away for world politics again.
It sounds unbelievable, but the Afghan parliament has just passed a bill according to which the relatives of an accused person cannot testify against him. According to article 26 of the proposed change in the criminal code, the ones banned from testifying would include: husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts and descendants of those relatives up to the second generation. Doctors and psychiatrists would also be banned from giving evidence. Most of the violence and abuse suffered by women in Afghanistan takes place behind closed doors, within their extended families, so it’s easy to foresee the consequences of a law like this.
In a country where human rights abuse, especially against women and children, is already endemic, this bill will make it impossible for any victim of domestic abuse to seek or even dare to seek justice. The bill has already been passed – it requires only the President’s signature to become a law which will pave the way for rape, forced marriage physical abuse and murder. Once this law is passed, a father may sell his children into forced, underage marriage, a husband may rape and beat his wife or force her into prostitution, and a woman’s in-laws may use her as a slave – and there can be no legal redress.
If President Karzai signs this bill Sitara, 30, whose nose and lips were chopped off by her abusive husband in front of her young daughters, will have no witness who may stand up in court and testify against her husband. Sitara was a victim of child marriage, sold off at just 11 years old to a husband of 30. At midnight on 13th December 2013 her husband brutally attacked her in her sleep, then fled the scene, while her 14 year old daughter rushed out onto the street asking for help. Her four daughters, the only witnesses to her brutal attack, will not be allowed to testify for her if this new bill becomes a law, and neither will the doctors who patched up her bloodied and broken body. During a recent interview with BBC Farsi, Sitara begged the President not to sign this bill: “The president must not sign this bill because if women at home are killed, their nose and lips are cut, no one will believe them. No one beats their wives in public.” Sitara’s case is far from uncommon; Gul Meena and Bibi Ayesha are other examples.
Afghan women have come a long way in the fight to regain the basic human rights that were so oppressively taken away from them under the Taliban. This regime, which attempted to take Afghanistan to back to the Stone Age, was extremely hostile towards any kind of female presence in society. Education was banned, girls were not allowed to attend schools and women were flogged like animals and imprisoned in their houses.
After the regime lost power in 2001, women went back to work and joined governmental and legal institutions, millions of girls went back to schools and universities and many travelled abroad for higher education. Today, Afghanistan has both male and female professionals in the fields of medicine, law, journalism, politics and sports. Many women’s rights organisations operate across the country, campaigning and raising awareness, and women’s shelters such as the ones run by Women for Afghan Women across the country help thousands of domestic abuse victims. Despite facing many challenges and serious threats to their lives, Afghan women have taken the lead and spoken out for their basic rights. They are doing all they can in their capacity to safeguard these rights which some of them have paid for with their lives. Afghanistan as a country has come a long way since 2001 economically and socially and the Afghan people certainly do not want to reverse all their hard earned progress.
But now, with international forces poised to withdraw by the end of the year, these brave women stand alone. Their government is negotiating to share power with these same Taliban, and women’s rights are a key bargaining chip once again. Already, the silence of the world in the face of some erosion of women’s rights has encouraged parliament and the Taliban to continue their efforts to subjugate women. Another bill waiting for parliamentary vote would give men authority over child custody, including the right to marry an adopted female child.
There is hope and on this day of global uprising, we must not let the women of Afghanistan stand alone in this fight for humanity. If you care about your mother, sister, wife or daughter, please take a stand in this fight of global civilization and sign and share widely the following petitions. Together we must raise our voices to show the perpetrators of human rights that the world is watching, and will not remain silent any longer.
Take action and help to stop Afghanistan abusive new bill from being signed into law. Here are ways you can lend your voice to support women in Afghanistan:
GirlsGlobe petition to stop President Karzai from signing the bill
Equality Now petition Protect women & girls from violence. Don’t sign new law rolling back women’s rights.
Women for Afghan Women petition urging President Obama and Secretary Kerry to stand with the Afghan women.
Women for Afghan Women petition urging President Karzai to reject the new bill
Avaaz petition calling on the President to stand by Afghan women and reject the new bill
Image credit: An Afghan woman sells pottery at a women vendor only bazaar in Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 28, 2011. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ernesto Hernandez Fonte