Afghan President Hamid Karzai has backed down from a national law that would have effectively legalized domestic abuse. The bill, colloquially termed the “anti-women gag law,” required that relatives of accused persons not be allowed to testify against them, meaning that any crime committed among only family members—including sexual assault, forced and child marriage, and honor killings--would go unpunished.
Thankfully, President Karzai has ordered amendments to the bill before final signature, intending for the law merely to allow relatives the option of refusing to testify. It would appear that he has listened to the protests of the international community and chosen to stand for women’s equality.
However, there is cause for caution in our optimism. As The Guardian points out, even with this revision, the law is a departure from international protocol: most countries allow only spouses of the accused not to give testimony. In Afghan villages with far-reaching blood and marriage bonds, a law exempting all relatives coupled with social pressure could easily impede successful prosecutions. Moreover, there is no guarantee that the amended law will be approved by the conservatives in parliament who have blocked previous efforts to reform the legislation.
Nevertheless, President Karzai has taken a necessary first step toward protecting the women of Afghanistan. Groups like Women Thrive Worldwide have underscored the importance of continued international engagement on this issue to promote women’s rights and freedoms.