Legal rape in Afghanistan?
April 9, 2009
When I go to bed at night, I have the luxury of falling asleep. I use the word “luxury” because this option is not always available for some women; and it looks as though married women in Afghanistan may be prohibited by law from falling asleep when their heads hit their pillows in the near future. There will be no “Honey, I have a headache” reprieve for these unlucky ladies, whether they have headaches or just say they do because they lack that special tingling sensation between their legs.
According to CNN and other news outlets, the Afghan parliament recently passed a bill – with good intentions - that may inadvertently harm the rights of women. “(C)ritics say the latest draft (of the bill) strips Shia women of rights as simple as leaving the house without permission from a male relative and as extreme as allowing a man to have sexual intercourse with his wife even when she says, ‘No.’
These critics wonder how what amounts to rape in marriage could be passed by parliament and signed into law by President Hamid Karzai.”
Last weekend, Karzai explained that key elements of the bill have been misinterpreted by western observers stating, “We understand the concerns of our allies and the international community. Those concerns may be due to an inappropriate, not-so-good translation of the law.”
That begs the question: what is there to misinterpret? Either husbands can rape their wives or they can’t according to law. There’s a clear distinction between the two.
Karzai also vowed to consider the bill against the nation’s constitution, which allegedly requires equal rights to both sexes. According to the Times Online, “(t)he Afghan Government is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which enshrines equality in dignity and rights regardless of religion or sex. Article 22 of the Afghan Constitution also explicitly reiterates the equality of men and women before the law.”
(Pause for hysterical laughter – the kind that makes you pee a little – and rolling around on the floor.)
Women do not exercise equal rights with men in this nation. If the Afghan government is even considering such a legal measure, then women are not on equal terms with men.
Let’s review the evidence, shall we?
Under the Taliban regime (1996-2001), women were not allowed to leave their homes without a male escort and girls were not permitted to go to school. While some things may have improved for women since the overthrow of the Taliban, Amnesty International (AI) reported in 2005 that “Afghanistan is in the process of reconstruction after many years of conflict, but hundreds of thousands of women and girls continue to suffer abuse at the hands of their husbands, fathers, brothers, armed individuals, parallel legal systems, and institutions of the state itself such as the police and the justice system. There are reported increases in forced marriages; some women in difficult situations have even killed themselves to escape such a heinous situation whilst others burn themselves to death to draw attention to their plight.” AI, which campaigns for universal human rights, found that violence against women in Afghanistan was widely tolerated by the community and widely practiced by men as recent as four years ago.
According to the Pajhwok Afghan News, as translated by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, in 2006 “(s)exual abuse, murder and other crimes of different types (we)re increasing in the Northern provinces of Afghanistan” where violence against women has reached levels as high as 80 percent of women being victimized.
Under the Taliban, women were required to wear blue burqas which covered their bodies from head to toe except for a net-like fabric that covered their eyes permitting them to see the world through a translucent barrier. According to the CNN article, those burqas are still worn today.
AI - which also proclaims on its Web site that many women’s rights advocates living in Afghanistan have faced death threats, kidnapping attempts, physical attacks and even death, while others have fled their homes – released a statement saying it is opposed to the “rape law” because it will “seriously undermine women’s rights for millions of Afghanistan women.” Reached for a comment, United States President Barack Obama called the law “abhorrent.” (I guess that lame reaction is better than saying the law is ”really, really bad.”)
Considering the other side of this issue means wondering who are these men who would benefit from such a law. What kind of person wants to rape another person? Is it something men are capable of on a large scale? When I think again about my own right to sleep, I think about how the sexuality I’ve experienced has mostly been based upon mutual enjoyment. Do men in Afghanistan enjoy having sex with women who don’t also enjoy the experience?
In Saudi Arabia, men and women are prohibited from mingling in public. Apparently that hasn’t kept men from trying to interact with burqa-clad women by commingling their dogs. As of July, 2008, the selling of dogs and cats as pets, as well as the walking of such pets in public places, is illegal in the Saudi capital city of Riyadh. In March, a Saudi court ordered the lashing and exile of a 75-year-old woman for mingling inside her home.
Perhaps, in Islamic countries where men and women are kept entirely segregated or where men cannot even see women, their sexuality has been warped to the point where they consider themselves entitled to sex even when subordinate females do not want it too. I’m just speculating, of course. But we do know that some people in these countries have access to the Internet; and where there’s Internet, there’s the capacity for looking at and downloading pornography, some of which is very degrading to women. Often times, such imagery reduces women to the status of inanimate objects. Sexuality, when it is forbidden, can often become corrupted by pornography-fueled imaginations; imaginations that later create insatiable appetites for sexuality that can be unpleasant for some.
The bottom line is that Afghanistan is not a happy home for most of its women, especially those who find themselves beaten or burned when they disobey their husbands or fathers. Legalizing spousal rape is only one more step in the direction of the total annihilation of women’s rights in this country.
If you value your unburned skin, intact bones, revealing clothing or right to a good night sleep, then help the cause to stop violence against women throughout the world. Act locally by volunteering to help at a shelter for homeless or abused women and children, just like my friend M****. Donate food so that they can eat well while they recover. Or – if you’re a busy working woman like me – make a monetary donation to AI by visiting its Web site.
I just made a $20 contribution. It’s not much but I feel a little better.
By the way - as I just found out on Feministing - spousal rape only became entirely illegal in the U.S. as of 1993. This issue affects more women than just those in Afghanistan and other Islamic nations.