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Afghanistan’s women: protecting their rights

February 2011

Afghanistan woman are marginalised in what is very much a male-centred society. Although they have rights under Afghan law, Christian Aid partners such as the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN) and Afghan Women’s Education Centre (AWEC) work tirelessly to ensure these rights are upheld and protected.

In 2009, when a new law for Afghanistan’s Shia minority was proposed that would have effectively legalised child marriage and marital rape - among other abuses - AWN and AWEC worked with female MPs such as Sabrina Saqeb and Shinkai Karokhail to fight the law in parliament.

With legal expertise provided by AWN and AWEC, Saqeb and Karokhail were able to set out how each article violated human rights as set out in the Afghan constitution and international law.

This enabled them to lobby for support across the Afghan parliament, so that when the new law came for discussion, they would win the vote on their proposed changes.

They did succeed in banning child marriage. They are still fighting the clause that says a wife cannot refuse her husband’s demands for sex unless she is ill or menstruating.

Christian Aid believes that it is critical to simultaneously fight the immediate, daily poverty and abuse that women and girls in Afghanistan face – providing access to education, to healthcare, to employment. 

But it is also critical to set in place the legal framework. As Saqeb says, ‘for the long term this can guarantee not only women’s rights, but their children’s rights.’

The international community must listen to the people, and especially the women, of Afghanistan to build a safe and secure country. 

This will not come through military intervention alone. The world must focus on development and political solutions. Women’s rights must not be compromised or sacrificed in any eventual deal with Taliban leaders.

As Karokhail concludes, ‘If the Taliban are reintegrated into Afghan society, they may want to close off some of the opportunities for women - such as closing the women's affairs ministry or ending the quota system for women in parliament - but this must not happen.

This is one of the fears that every Afghan woman carries in her heart.’

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