US’s Role Responding to New Afghan Law


Since we’ve been discussing the role of the United States in fostering
women’s sexual and reproductive rights worldwide, I’m curious as to
what others think the US should do about the new Shia Personal Status
law in Afghanistan. As most of you no doubt know, the new law appears
to legalize spousal rape, to require women to get their husband’s
permission to leave the house, work or visit the doctor, and to grant
child custody to fathers and grandfathers, a provision that will
further entrap women in abusive situations. On Thursday the Associated
Press quoted one provision stating that a woman is “bound to preen for
her husband as and when he desires,” and that a husband has the right
to sex with his wife every four nights. “Unless the wife is ill or has
any kind of illness that intercourse could aggravate, the wife is bound
to give a positive response to the sexual desires of her husband."

In
Canada, the government has pledged to exert direct pressure on
Afghanistan to jettison it, but the US seems to be approaching it with
more circumspection. Which, of course, is not surprising — I spoke to
someone in Kabul early this morning who told me that Shia leaders are
outraged over the international condemnation. The US, needing allies
against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, surely doesn’t want to be seen as
meddling in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. Still, Hillary Clinton
promised to put women’s rights at the center of American foreign
policy, and it seems to me that if our government is serious, it can’t
just uphold them when it’s convenient or uncontroversial.

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