There’s Nothing Moral About It

The past couple of weeks we’ve been hearing a lot about the enormous up-tick in the number of women and girls imprisoned for so-called “moral crimes” in Afghanistan. Well, at least I’ve been hearing a lot about it, but then again I’m a gender-security-development nerd. If your level of nerdom doesn’t quite cover the same issue areas as me, or if you don’t have a job where you’re required to look up news about women and conflict everyday, let me bring you briefly up to speed:

An Afghan female prisoner outside her cell at Badam Bagh, Afghanistan's central women's prison, in Kabul. Via Human Right's Watch

An Afghan female prisoner outside her cell at Badam Bagh, Afghanistan’s central women’s prison, in Kabul. Via Human Right’s Watch

Via presidential decree in 2009, President Karzai put a violence against women bill on Afghanistan’s books, the first such law of its kind in Afghanistan since ever. This law defines rape for the first time in Afghanistan’s history, and also for the first time (there are a lot of firsts in this bill) criminalizes marital rape. It has been the main tool that has allowed activists and lawyers to prosecute crimes against women and girls, including forced marriage and forced prostitution, domestic violence, etc. All good things.

Buuut. Nothing is ever that simple, especially when you’re talking about a country that has seen consistent wars and invasions by multiple foreign forces for the past 3 (approaching 4) decades.

Women’s rights activists and lawmakers wanted to bring the bill–actually it’s The Law for the Elimination of Violence Against Women but that’s quite long– to a full debate and vote in Afghan’s parliament, concerned that if it remained a presidential decree a future president may overturn the bill and then Afghan women would be left with literally no safe-guards against abuse. However others (including some activists and lawyers) worried that a full debate could be detrimental to the integrity of the bill and, whelp, that’s pretty much what happened.

Less than twenty minutes into the “debate” (if we want to generously call it that) the speaker of Afghanistan’s lower parliament stopped the debate while particularly conservative (…don’t you hate that “conservative” is now so-often synonymous with sexist/racist/anti-woman/discriminatory/etc opinions under the guise of some broader and co-opted identity like religion? So frustrating…) PMs ranted and raved that the law was un-Islamic and had no place in Afghanistan. Sometime Lena and I will get into how the anti-Islam argument is ridiculous using actual cited passages from the Qur’an and historical examples from the Islamic tradition, but in the meantime just trust me: protecting women is not anti-Islam.

This disturbing display of anti-woman uproar coincides with a Human Rights Watch alert on the alarming increase in women and girls jailed for “moral” crimes. Clarification: “moral” crimes in this conversation usually refers to women and girls who are imprisoned for fleeing abuse, forced prostitution, forced marriage, and a bunch of other things one would typically expect the perpetrators to be punished for, not the victims. The number of women and girls imprisoned for such crimes has increased 50 percent in just 18 months from 400 to 600. Several analysts and researchers fear that the imprisonment rates are reflective of growing “conservative” (there’s that word again!) confidence as the ISAF withdrawal in 2014 approaches. Putting the debate on foreign presence in Afghanistan aside, looking at where women’s rights are headed after international withdrawal is crucial to the human rights landscape of Afghanistan and garnering international support for our Afghan sisters as they lead the charge for their rights. We need to listen to these women. We also need to remember that just because “the war” is officially “ending” in 2014, that doesn’t mean that things are super hunky-dory for all of Afghanistan. Troop withdrawal may mean a serious backslide down the human rights slope for Afghan women.

While most of us can’t do anything particularly active or meaningful, from our computers we can tweet, talk, and write about Afghanistan and keep our eye on the situation there, whether or not there is troop presence. A lot of people have said that 90 percent of success is showing up. Well, in this case, “showing up” can just mean paying attention, and paying attention really means listening to the Afghan women leading the way.

Read HRW’s Alert here


2 thoughts on “There’s Nothing Moral About It

  1. Great article. Like you say I think its important that as the Afghan war draws to an end we don’t assume that everything is ‘fine’. The recent events in the Afghan parliament concerning this Bill show how far there is still to go in women’s rights. I actually wrote an article about the increase in imprisonment of women for ‘moral crimes’ a few weeks ago, please take a look if you get chance: By the way I love the whole concept behind this blog. Keep up the good work!

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