Woman as Reason
The Afghan constitution and women
by Terry Moon
The new Afghan Constitution, ratified by the LOYA JIRGA on Jan. 4, is being touted by the U.S. government and press as a breakthrough for human rights--particularly women’s rights. Nothing could be further from the truth. While it’s true that a constitution can’t make women free, and that even in places where there are great constitutions, women are not free, this constitution is so flawed that, rather than laying out a path to a freer Afghanistan, it has created a framework for the strengthening of warlords and the further Islamicization of the state
The constitution created a strong presidency, expected to be won by Hamid Karzai, a bicameral legislature and an independent judiciary. Yet the process of its creation reveals its flaws. The intimidation, silencing of differing views, undemocratic and sexist nature of the proceedings were made public by a 25-year-old social worker. Malalai Joya took the floor and demanded to know: "Why have you again selected as committee chairmen those criminals who have brought disasters for the Afghan people? In my opinion they should be taken to the World Court.”
The assembly chairman, Sebaghatullah Mojeddidi, a former mujahedeen leader, tried to have her thrown out. Abdur Rasul Sayyaf, the Northern Alliance deputy prime minister, gave a 15-minute tirade against Joya, slandering her as a communist and "criminal.”
Furthermore, Mojeddidi refused to allow a vote on a petition with over 151 signatures from LOYA JIRGA members who wanted the country’s name changed from the "Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” to the "Republic of Afghanistan.” He publicly called them "infidels,” thus placing them in danger of assassination.
Preeta D. Bansal and Felice D. Gaer, of the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, wrote: "We met many Muslims who recognize the compatibility of Islam with human rights. Yet these Muslims are being intimidated into silence by vocal and well-armed extremists.”
What concerns many is language in the constitution saying that "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.” Furthermore, a qualification for the judiciary is to "have higher education in law or in Islamic jurisprudence.” This lays open the judiciary to people like the current chief justice, Fazl Hadi Shinwari, who told Bansal and Gaer that he accepted the Universal Declaration on Human Rights "with three exceptions: freedom of expression, freedom of religion and equality of the sexes. ‘This is the only law,’ the chief justice told us, pointing to the Koran on his desk.”
This Supreme Court has the mandate to ensure legislation fully complies with Afghanistan’s international treaty obligations and protects human rights. But Shinwari packed the Supreme Court with Islamic extremists; and he reinstated the Taliban’s Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue--the thugs who beat women in the streets with metal bars for showing a strand of hair or an ankle.
Women are also supposed to have the right to education, but in November a 1970 law prohibiting married women from attending high school was upheld. Over 3,000 women were thrown out of school. Even literacy classes set up by NGOs for girls who could not attend schools have been banned by religious leaders.
The U.S. and their minions did nothing to democratize the Afghan constitution. Rather it was women, ethnic Hazaras, ethnic Uzbeks and others who put their lives in jeopardy as they tried to make the constitution a document that represents their aspirations. If Afghanistan has shown us anything, it is that women will continue their struggle against the greatest of intimidations.
Women’s vision of a new Afghanistan was revealed in the Afghan Women’s Bill of Rights, drafted by 45 ethnically diverse women from every region of Afghanistan, Sept. 2-5 in Kandahar. Each article was debated by all and unanimously agreed upon.
Here we can only list a few of its 16 demands: Mandatory education for women through secondary school and opportunities for all women for higher education; provision of up-to-date health services for women with special attention to reproductive rights; protection and security for women; the prevention and criminalization of sexual harassment against women publicly and in the home; freedom of speech; freedom to vote and run for election to office; full inclusion of women in the judiciary system; and minimum marriageable age set at 18 years.
Any movement forward for Afghanistan will come only from women and others who are fighting the U.S. and their own internal rulers with their hearts and minds determined to create freedom.
Published by News and Letters Committees