Women Protest a New Shia Law in AfghanistanApril 23, 2009
Last week in Kabul, approximately 300 women gathered to protest a new law for Shia Afghans. The law would, among other things, make marital rape legal. In a direct protest against traditional cultural norms, some of the women uncovered their faces and others wore jeans. Counterdemonstrators, largely Shia men, shouted slurs and insults and threw rocks at the women. According to the United Nations, women have received death threats if they defy the new law. The women who protested despite overpowering cultural norms, insults, and physical and verbal threats are courageous, and their commitment to women’s rights is commendable.
A storm of responses came from Tweeters and bloggers who spoke out against the new law and in support of the women who protested. Some criticized President Barack Obama’s administration for not making a clear statement against the new law. Afghani lawmakers did not seem to expect the impressive reaction by both Afghani citizens and the global community. President Hamid Karzai stated in defense, “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, or misinterpretation.”
Misinterpretation is not the problem here, however. While we as Americans need to be careful about how we impress our own views of what women’s rights should look like, I share the view of many people who believe that women, regardless of their culture, religion, or any other defining characteristic, have the right to choose how their bodies are treated. This is not a right that can be taken away from us by our husbands, by our communities, or by our government. A woman always has the right to say no. The protest demonstrated that the demand for women’s rights is not simply the result of America imposing its views on the Middle East but that the demand comes from women within Afghanistan and within an Afghani cultural context.
Fortunately, the enactment of the law is being placed on hold while the Afghani Justice Department reviews it. I’m hoping that the protests from women in Kabul and the negative, global response will positively affect the outcome of the Justice Department’s review.
What do you think would be the appropriate response for the Obama administration? To voice your opposition to the law you can send a message to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.