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Category: domestic violence

Women’s Rights in Afghanistan: A Small Ray of Hope

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. 

Taking Great Strides toward Silencing Female Victims

If you wanted to use the criminal justice system to abolish women’s rights and protections, you couldn’t do much better than the new law that Afghanistan is working on. 

Parliament has approved a bill banning relatives of accused criminals from being questioned in cases against them.  In other words, offenders like the in-laws of Sahar Gul—who chained the child bride in a basement before starving, whipping, and burning her because she refused to work as a prostitute for them— will evade prosecution because the victim is no longer allowed to testify. Neither are other relatives in the home who may have witnessed the crime.

This change in criminal procedure could not be more devastating to a country plagued by honor killings, forced and child marriage, and domestic abuse.

President Karzai is expected to receive the bill within the next few weeks for final signature into law.  Groups like Human Rights Watch have called on the President to refuse to sign the law until it is revised to reflect the country’s prior commitments to women’s rights, including its 2003 ratification of the Women’s Equality Treaty, or CEDAW; its 2009 passage of the law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW); and its 2014 pledge to uphold that law at the country’s second Universal Periodic Review by the United Nations.

More recent coverage on the new law can be found here: