Population Matters

The Real Losers in the Afghan Elections: Women

August 17th, 2009

Voters in Afghanistan will head to the polls this week to elect a new president, but regardless of who wins it appears that Afghan women will lose.

A report from the BBC indicates that the Afghan parliament has just approved a new law, now in effect, that permits a man to withhold food from his wife if she refuses his sexual demands.  Under the new law, a woman must also get her husband’s permission to work, and fathers and grandfathers are given exclusive custody of children.

The new law, which applies only to the Shia Muslim minority in Afghanistan, was enacted with the support of President Hamid Karsai, who desperately needs the support of Shia religious leaders in his bid for re-election.

The original legislation, withdrawn in response to international protests earlier this year, required Shia women to have sex with their husbands every four days, and essentially condoned rape by removing the need for consent to sex within marriage.

While the new law is likely to elicit fewer international protests, it is still a flagrant violation of human rights, and one that further sets back the cause of women’s rights in a country that is already terribly abusive of women.

Due to poverty, malnutrition and lack of reproductive health services, female life expectancy at birth is only 44 years.  Afghan women, on average, bear six children and suffer from shockingly high maternal death rates. Access to modern methods of contraception is very limited; the prevalence rate is less than 10 percent.

With a population that, despite war and severe poverty, is on track to nearly double over the next 40 years, Afghanistan is moving in the wrong direction on women’s rights.



Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

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