By Katie Buckland
Thursday, April 23, 2009
When Afghan women and girls took to the streets of Kabul last week to bravely protest a law permitting marital rape, Katie Buckland writes, they sent a message to the world that the women's movement is alive and kicking.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase Mark Twain.
And in Afghanistan no less.
As readers of Women's eNews and most news agencies already know, the Afghan Parliament last month passed the unintentionally ironically titled "Afghan Shiite Personal Status Law." It was then signed into law by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who now says it was all a big mistake.
The law, among other horrifying provisions, allows a man to rape his wife every four days. It also mandates that she dress up and preen for him on demand, that she not leave the house without his permission and, in the event of a divorce, the children remain the property of the husband. In the event that the husband does not wish to own his children, they belong to the paternal grandfather.
In a backwards nod to female sexual pleasure, the law does mandate that the husband not go longer than four months without having sex with his wife.
The United Nations Development Fund for Women stated the obvious and said that the law "legalizes the rape of a wife by her husband" and "violates women's rights and human rights in numerous ways."
The current popular wisdom about feminism would say that the response to this law should be discussion and commentary, but no actual demonstrable collective anger or action. The defining characteristic of today's activists is to see feminism as a route to individual empowerment, rejecting collective action. This often leads to the erroneous assumption that the women's movement, as a collective movement, is over.
But the women's movement around the world rose from its alleged grave and took to the streets, the airwaves and even to the White House in response to this law. On April 5, when asked about increasing NATO efforts in Afghanistan, President Obama used the opportunity to comment on the new Afghan law, calling it "abhorrent."
Afghan women and girls protested Saturday despite numerous dangers and obstacles. According to an eyewitness report published in The Guardian, they were physically restrained from leaving the house. If they made it past the barricade of men, they were called whores and bitches by angry madrasa students.
Among other insults, the women and girls were called "Jews and slaves of the Christians."
Some of the men spit in their faces.
Despite all this, the women and girls did not merely express their displeasure with the legislation, they attacked it head-on.
One of the most prominent clerics and supporters of the new law took to the airwaves Saturday night and instructed the male members of the sect to forbid their wives and daughters from attending the protest scheduled for Sunday.
So where did these brave women and girls stage their protest?
On the steps of this cleric's mosque.
The law has been condemned by not only the U.N. and President Obama, but by numerous other world leaders and is now "under review" by Karzai.
Karzai claims not to have read the entire document before signing it into law and met with a group of women's rights activists at the presidential palace in Kabul on Tuesday.
So the law may stand, or it may not.
Obviously, we fervently wish for its quick demise.
But what we do know right at this very minute is that there is a women's movement. Yes, it took appallingly barbaric new rules for women to set it in motion, but the protest did happen right there in Kabul, and world leaders did denounce the legislation.
We'll keep you posted on the status of the law.
In the meantime, whenever anyone tells you that the women's movement happened in the 1970s and then died a quiet death, or that young women are fundamentally not political, let's picture those Afghan girls and women sneaking out early in the morning to protest legalized rape.
Katie Buckland is the executive director of The California Women's Law Center and can be contacted at email@example.com.
California Women's Law Center
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