Women’s rights in Afghanistan lack attention

February 7, 2014

Human Rights Watch released a report in January detailing the deteriorating state of human rights, specifically women’s rights, in Afghanistan. In a disturbing reflection of the report’s accuracy, a new law that would severely weaken a woman’s ability to seek redress in court for domestic violence, marital rape and forced child marriage is awaiting the approval of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The proposal was passed by parliament, and Karzai is expected to sign it into law in the coming weeks.

The situation for women in Afghanistan has steadily worsened since Karzai took office in 2004. Although equal rights for all citizens are guaranteed under the 2004 Afghan Constitution and the 2009 Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women, enforcement of these guarantees is inadequate and prosecution of crimes against women has not risen in tandem with the increasing reports of abuse. In the same year that he passed the EVWA, Karzai signed a law that legalized marital rape and forced women to ask their husband’s permission before leaving their homes. The Afghan president’s support for the most recent law restricting women is more than concerning, but unfortunately this is not surprising.

Karzai, who was essentially installed by the United States after the end of the Taliban regime, has forged his own path, much to the displeasure of U.S. political leaders. His relationship with the Taliban is the greatest cause for concern. This past week, his secret dialogue with leaders of the extremist group came to light, and Karzai seems to be seeking a resolution with the group that excludes the United States.

Women’s rights suffered extensively under Taliban rule. Under Karzai’s administration, the Taliban is once again gaining the foothold they lost in 2001. Their continued influence in Afghan politics is apparent in the worsening conditions for women in the country.

The official schedule for the withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign troops is contingent upon whether Karzai will sign the security pact that allows NATO forces to remain in Afghanistan after this year, but withdrawal in late-2014 or early-2015 is likely. In the next Afghan presidential election, slated for April 5, 2014, Karzai will not be eligible to run again. As the country’s first democratic transfer of power, the change of administration will likely be turbulent. When Afghan forces are left to their own devices, the instability the international presence has helped to mask will likely escalate.

 Amid the commotion of both the election and withdrawal of troops, the situation for Afghan women seems bleak. International attention will drift to other matters, leaving the incoming administration, and the increasingly influential Taliban, with free rein. Whether American forces leave Afghanistan or not, international human rights organizations, the United Nations and all foreign leaders need to increase pressure on the Karzai administration and whichever administration that follows to urge progress in women’s rights. Investment in women and girls is the foundation of any growing country’s rise to stability and if any success is to be seen in Afghanistan’s future, tangible progress needs to be made.

Nina Golshan is a deputy opinion editor. Email her at ngolshan@nyunews.com.

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