Afghan law: Wife refusing sex? Deny her food

President Karzai quietly passes a law allowing husbands to starve their Shia wives

Topics: Broadsheet, Love and Sex,

You might recall how just a few months ago fierce global condemnation pushed Afghan President Hamid Karzai to reconsider a law allowing Shia men to rape their wives. Remember how Karzai promised that the bill would be reviewed to ensure that it didn’t violate women’s rights, how he would send it to parliament before it was passed, how we heaved a collective sigh of relief? Well, you might as well hit rewind and pretend none of that ever happened: Human Rights Watch has discovered that a revised version of the law was quietly passed last month and, while those original controversial passages have been rewritten, they are no less disturbing. According to HRW:



The law gives a husband the right to withdraw basic maintenance from his wife, including food, if she refuses to obey his sexual demands. It grants guardianship of children exclusively to their fathers and grandfathers. It requires women to get permission from their husbands to work. It also effectively allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by paying “blood money” to a girl who was injured when he raped her.

This law patently contradicts Afghanistan’s constitutional guarantee of equal rights to both men and women — but, no matter, Karzai is doing everything he can to secure the fundamentalist vote ahead of the August 20 presidential election. Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director,  puts it best: ”The rights of Afghan women” — particularly those belonging to the Shiite minority – ”are being ripped up by powerful men who are using women as pawns in maneuvers to gain power.”

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

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