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Global silence over Afghan edict that women are “secondary” to men

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Credit: Carol Mitchell, Creative Commons

Julie Tomlin
WVoN co-editor 

The world’s eyes are again on Afghanistan following the shooting on Sunday of 16 villagers in Kandahar by a US soldier.

But as the world’s leaders discuss the planned withdrawal and the handing over of frontline duties to the Afghan army, little has been said about the restriction of women and girls that is already in motion.

On 2 March, Afghanistan’s top religious council, the Ulema, adopted an edict which set out a strict code of conduct that women should follow.

“Men are fundamental and women are secondary,” it said, adding that women should avoid “mingling with strange men in various social activities such as education, in bazaars, in offices and other aspects of life.”

It added that “teasing, harassing and beating women” is prohibited “without a sharia-compliant reason,” which has been interpreted as suggesting that domestic abuse is appropriate in some cases.

The Taliban were also notorious for beating women who were not considered appropriately dressed.

Though the edict is non-binding, President Hamid Karzai’s endorsement of it four days later has increased fears that the progress women have made will be reversed as part of a peace deal with the Taliban (see WVoN stories).

While politicians around the world remained silent on the issue, young Afghans responded with a mixture of anger and humour, the BBC reported.

Cartoons lampooning the religious council’s recommendations appeared on many sites and others wrote on Twitter and Facebook:

“Could I please ask the Afghan girls not to comment on my posts unless they have permission from their fathers or husbands or the Ulema council?” one man tweeted.

Muzhgan Ahmadi, a student from Kabul, told the BBC the use of humour was a deliberate ploy against the edict:

“Young people want to show that we don’t care and we won’t obey,” she said on air on BBC Persian.

Women’s rights activists are concerned that Karzai’s government is paving the way for the Taliban to control Afghanistan.

The MP Fawzia Koofi told the BBC’s Orla Guerin the statement is “an alarm” for Afghan women:

“I think it’s the beginning of taking women back to the dark period of the Taliban,” she said.

“They have started taking some of those basic rights, like working together, living together, going out like a free human being. I am worried for my daughters and for all the girls and women of Afghanistan.”

Koofi believes the president and the clerics may be testing the water to see if there is a backlash either domestically or internationally.

On that basis, the Karzai government is currently being given a green light to bargain away women’s rights as the coalition manoeuvres its way out of Afghanistan.

And, as Koofi concludes, if there is no resistance, there may be worse to come.

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