Afghani Laws Addressing Women’s Human Rights and Violence Against Women Remain Problematic
Monday, July 13, 2009 12:47 PM

According to a new report by the Associated Press, the government of Afghanistan has revised the controversial marriage law passed by the Parliament in April 2009, which restricted an Afghan Shi’a woman’s right to leave the home without her husband and obligated a wife to have sex with her husband unless ill. While recognizing that government officials may be trying to address women’s human rights issues, advocates continue to argue that the law is unacceptable.  In fact, more than 50 civil society groups have rejected the amendments, which they argue amount to only superficial changes in the wording of the law.   


The revisions to the marriage law come at the same time a report on violence against women in Afghanistan has been released by the United Nations.  The U.N. report, entitled “Silence is Violence,” expresses deep concern about two critical issues:  (1) violence that inhibits the participation of women in public life; and (2) sexual violence in the context of rape. The report makes a number of recommendations, including a specific recommendation that rape be criminalized under the “Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women” (EVAW Law). 


The issue of rape, including rape within marriage, has been the subject of concern related to the marriage law and the EVAW Law. The provisions of the marriage law purportedly give husbands the power to order their wives to have sex and to withhold support if she refuses to submit to her husband’s sexual desires. But the issues of force and consent become unclear when reading the two laws together.


If, as specified in the marriage law, a woman submits to her husband’s order to have sex for fear of a loss of support, she may be deemed to have “consented” to the sexual activity. This consent would likely be taken to mean that the husband did not force his wife to have sex. Article 3 of the EVAW Law defines rape in terms of forced sexual activity between two adults or non-consensual sexual activity between an adult male and underage victim. Conflicting provisions like these must be harmonized in order for the marriage and EVAW laws to protect women from violence, promote women’s human rights, and fulfill Afghanistan’s obligations under international human rights treaties.


In addition, as highlighted in the U.N. report, the public must be educated that rape and violence against women are serious offenses that will not be tolerated. Elected female officials, activists and human rights defenders who speak out against such discriminatory laws must also be protected. The problem, as stated by Kai Eide, the Secretary General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, is that “violence against women is not being challenged or condemned. And that has implications both for countless individual victims and for the country’s future development.” Violence Against Afghan Women Widespread and Unpunished, U.N. News Service, 8 July 2009.

To download the U.N. report "Silence is Violence," click here. (PDF, 39 pages)

Compiled from:  Violence Against Afghan Women Widespread and Unpunished, U.N. News Service, 8 July 2009; Faiez, Rahim and Vogt, Heidi, Afghanistan Tones Down Contentious Marriage Law, Associated Press, 9 July 2009; Vogt, Heidi, Afghan Activists Still Oppose New Marriage Law, Associated Press, 13 July 2009.