Afghan women protest new law

By Kathy Durkin, Workers World, April 23, 2009

Hundreds of angry Afghan women demonstrated in Kabul on April 15. Led by young activists, they marched to Parliament to demand the repeal of a new law denying women basic rights.

The Shia Family Law, passed by Parliament and signed by President Hamid Karzai, restricts women’s rights by, among other things, condoning marital rape; limiting travel outside the home for work, school or medical care without a husband’s permission; and denying inheritance and child custody.

An avalanche of worldwide criticism has been leveled at Karzai because of this legislation. Though he is now publicly hedging on the new law, he wants to win the upcoming presidential election and is courting the support of conservatives, in and out of Parliament, who oppose women’s rights.

An immediate question arises: How has 30 years of U.S. intervention affected Afghan women’s rights?

In 1979 the U.S. began to destabilize the government of the Progressive Democratic Party of Afghanistan, which implemented laws promoting women’s rights. Women had made some gains under the progressive government. But the U.S. and its allies made a bloc with reactionary forces to overturn the pro-women’s rights government and curtail further gains for women.

For the next 10 years the CIA poured billions of dollars into arming right-wing groups that opposed advances for women and fought to oust the government and its Soviet allies. It succeeded.

In 1996 the Taliban took over the government, backed by then-President Bill Clinton.

In October 2001, after the Sept. 11 crisis, the U.S. government lied about “protecting women’s rights” as a cover to militarily intervene in Afghanistan for its own imperialist aims. While the administration cried crocodile tears and Laura Bush deplored the “poverty, poor health and illiteracy” of Afghan women, U.S. bombs rained down on their villages, killing women and their families.

The U.S. then worked to oust the Taliban in 2001, in alliance with other forces that opposed women’s rights. In 2004 the U.S. and Britain helped to install Karzai as president. He allegedly promoted women’s equality, but his government has not helped women at all.

Since 2001 the U.S./NATO bombing, invasion and occupation of Afghanistan have killed and injured thousands of civilians, including women. In 2008 alone, airstrikes escalated and 2,118 civilians were killed.

The eight-year war has impoverished women and forced many out of their homes. Afghan women’s life expectancy is only 44. The maternal mortality rate is the second highest in the world: 24,000 women die annually—over 65 each day!—due to pregnancy or childbirth. Women’s illiteracy rate is 85 percent, the highest in the world. Many of the 1.5 million widows are forced to beg or turn to prostitution to survive and feed their families; many commit suicide.

In war zones, conditions are even worse: “Women are disproportionately affected due to death and injuries caused by U.S. and NATO troops. Many women have been thrust into poverty with little support after losing a home and a family breadwinner in an air strike.” (

Under the U.S. occupation, and with a government installed by the U.S. and its allies, women’s social and political rights have not improved.

Afghanistan-based journalist Anand Gopal notes that while some better-off women gained rights in the cities in the last eight years, this didn’t happen in the countryside where the majority live. There many women already live under the same conditions imposed by the new law. They lack health care, autonomy and protection from abuse. Forced marriages predominate, including of young girls. Domestic violence and marital rape are common. Countrywide, only 5 percent of girls attend secondary schools. (Huffington Post, April 13)

Gopal says that “foreign intervention” has hurt women, as the U.S. and NATO support reactionary elements—who are now in Parliament—against pro-women’s rights forces. He says it’s “no surprise” that anti-woman laws are being passed.

With the U.S./NATO occupation, the U.S. military spends $100 million a day in Afghanistan for war, where thousands are dead and injured and women are being harmed, not helped. The U.S. plans to send another 17,000 soldiers and 4,000 advisors to Afghanistan. This means even more horror for Afghan women.

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