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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 17 Jul 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Egyptian Girl Shoots Herself to Death after Refusing To Wear Hijab


New Age Islam News Bureau

17 Jul 2013

Soldier on … women from the Polisario Front mark the declaration of independence of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. Photograph: Dominique Faget/Getty


 UN Deploys Women Protection Advisers to Curb Sexual Violence

 Decision to Ban Headscarves in Stavropol Schools Upheld

 'Happy With SC Verdict on Dance Bars, But Unsure About Our Future'

 Rwanda woman jailed in US for lying about genocide role

 Indonesia Penalizes Parties in Fight for Women

 Women on Frontline in Struggle for Western Sahara

 Saudi Human Rights Commission Seeks Faster Resolution of Cases Related To Family Issues

 Documentary to Chronicle Malala's Education for Children Campaign

 Afghan Lawmakers Take Aim at Women's Rights - HRW

 Supporting Afghan Women, With or Without Troops: Researcher HRW

 Afghan Women Get Empowerment Boost: UK

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Egyptian Girl Shoots Herself to Death after Refusing To Wear Hijab

17 July 2013

A 15-year old Egyptian girl who rejected her family’s pressures to wear the Islamic headscarf, known as the Hijab, shot herself to death using her father’s hand gun, Egyptian reported.

The girl, identified only as Amira , was subjected to “violence” by her family after she removed her Hijab.

Preferring death to living under violence, Amira reportedly “sneaked” into her father’s room, took his gun and opened fire on herself, an investigation found, according to Youm7.

The girl’s suicide, which took place last week in an area of the Giza province, was reported by the popular Egyptian news website Youm7.



UN Deploys Women Protection Advisers to Curb Sexual Violence


United Nations — Despite the United Nations' "zero tolerance" policy against sexual violence, there has been a rash of gender-based crimes in several of the world's conflict zones, including South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Northern Uganda, Somalia, the Central African Republic - and, more recently, in politically-troubled Egypt and Syria.

Describing rape as "a weapon of war", Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council last month that sexual violence occurred wherever conflicts raged, "devastating survivors and destroying the social fabric of whole communities".

"It was a crime under international human rights law and a threat to international peace and security," he said.

Since most of the heinous crimes are taking place in conflict zones overseen by U.N. peacekeeping missions, the United Nations is unleashing an army of Women Protection Advisers (WPAs) to specifically curb sexual violence in war zones.

For starters, they will be deployed with peacekeeping missions in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Cote d'Ivoire, DRC, Mali and Somalia.

Asked if these WPAs will be confined to Africa, Andre-Michel Essoungou of the Public Affairs Division at the U.N.'s Department of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support told IPS, "There is no restriction to a region of the world in this regard. But the process is starting with these missions for the time being.

"The recruitment procedures are currently underway," he added.

Marcy Hersh, a senior advocate for women and girls' rights at Refugees International, told IPS her organisation insists that prior to the further deployment of WPAs to peacekeeping and political missions, the United Nations should take urgent action to ensure that WPAs are trained before their deployment and encouraged to work collaboratively with already operational humanitarian structures.

Additionally, they should be held accountable to fundamental and non-negotiable ethical and safety criteria for investigating sexual violence in conflict, which preserves the safety and dignity of survivors.

She said the recently unanimously passed Security Council Resolution 2106 includes language that is in accordance with these recommendations in its calls for the timely deployment of WPAs, their adequate training, and their coordination across multiple sectors.

Given this strong language, combined with the statements from multiple member states that WPAs should be deployed to all peacekeeping and political missions, Hersh said, "I am confident that the United Nations will work urgently to improve the rollout of WPAs."

She said she is also hopeful that the United Nations will ensure that WPAs collect timely, objective, accurate and reliable information as a basis for prevention and response programming and preserve the safety and dignity of sexual violence survivors.

The secretary-general said that U.N. Women and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) have developed, on behalf of the U.N. Action Network, the "first-ever scenario-based training programme for peacekeepers", some of whom, along with aid workers, have been accused of sexual violence - specifically in South Sudan, DRC, Cote d'Ivoire and Haiti.

The United Nations will also set up a team of experts on "the rule of law and sexual violence in conflict", described as an important tool for strengthening national justice systems and legal frameworks.

The team has already provided technical advice to governments in the Central African Republic, Colombia, Cote d'Ivoire, DRC, Guinea, Liberia, Somalia and South Sudan.

Zainab Hawa Bangura, the U.N.'s special representative on sexual violence in armed conflict, points out that 20 years ago, the United Nations had provided "irrefutable evidence" of widespread and systematic rape in the countries of the former Yugoslavia.

She said that during a recent visit to Bosnia - where an estimated 50,000 women had been raped or been victims of sexual violence - she discovered that, to date, only a handful of prosecutions had occurred.

"Thus the victims of those crimes continue to walk in shadow and shame, unable to lay the past to rest and move forward."

More recently, in late June, the United Nations described as "unacceptable" several cases of rape of young girls in DRC.

Nine young girls, aged between 18 months and 12 years, were admitted to a hospital in South Kivu with marks of violence on their bodies and very serious internal wounds, resulting in the death of two.

"Such violence and abuse is unacceptable and must be brought to an end," said Roger Meece, head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in DRC (MONUSCO).

"These abuses are said to be related to harmful traditional practices perpetrated by individuals who kidnap young children from their communities," he said.

There have also been widespread reports of 135 women and girls allegedly raped by government soldiers in Minova in eastern DRC back in 2012.

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, France's minister for women's rights, told reporters at a U.N. press briefing last month that condemnation of such crimes was not enough and that perpetrators should be prosecuted.

"France was very disturbed by such atrocities, whether committed by a rebel group or by government troops," she added.



Decision to Ban Headscarves in Stavropol Schools Upheld

The Moscow Times

 July 17, 2013

The Supreme Court has upheld an earlier court ruling banning Muslims from wearing headscarves in secondary schools in the Stavropol region, a news report said Wednesday.

The court turned down an appeal filed by lawyer Murad Musayev on behalf of the southern region's Muslim population against the earlier decision by a local judge to ban hijabs, a type of veil that covers the head and is particularly worn by women.

It was argued in the appeal that the ban on hijabs in schools violates Muslim's constitutional right to wear religious symbols, Interfax reported.

"The Russian Constitution guarantees everyone the right to choose one's religion, while only federal legislators can put restrictions on freedom of conscience and freedom of religion," the appeal stated.

The claimants went to court because they were not allowed to attend school dressed according to their religious beliefs. Because of that, they were forced to transfer to a religious school or study at home.

However, the Stavropol regional court said education is secular in Russia and that restrictions in appearance were intended to help schools function "normally," by promoting equality among students of different denominations and faiths. The court ruled that students' appearance should "conform with business style and be of a secular character."

In February, the court rejected a suit on the grounds that the freedom of religion is not related to the right to wear religious symbols.

Musayev filed an appeal at the same court on April 22, which was later sent to the Supreme Court in a bid to abolish the regional government's directive from Oct. 31, 2012 that established unified standards for students' appearance. The directive meant that several girls wearing headscarves were denied access to classes for two weeks.

On Oct. 18, 2012 President Vladimir Putin said in a meeting with members of All-Russia People's Front that the authorities should respect religious beliefs, but base their decisions on the secular nature of the state.



'Happy With SC Verdict on Dance Bars, But Unsure About Our Future'

Mugdha Variya

 July 17, 2013

While former bar dancer Reshma Sayyed, 38, was happy with the decision of the Supreme Court on Tuesday to once again allow dance bars to function in the state, but she isn't sure whether she wants to go back to the job.

“Most of us are worried that the dance bars won't function the way they used to eight years ago,” she said. “Many customers will not turn up, at least in the beginning, and they may not tip us very well. We will also constantly be worried about police raids. I am not sure if I want to go back to work at a dance bar,” said Sayyed.

Sayyed, a Christian who came to the city from Chennai, married a Muslim autorickshaw driver. She took up dancing in bars after the birth of her son in 1999.

Working as a dancer at a few bars in Malad, she would earn up to Rs. 5,000 in tips from customers ever day. “The ban affected all of us financially. We never thought we would lose our jobs so suddenly,” she said.

After the ban, Sayyed approached the Sanmitra Trust based in Malwani in 2006, which provided skill-based training to disadvantaged women.

“I started off as a social worker, and would earn Rs. 1,500 a month, which was far less than what I would make in a single day. I had to continue to keep providing service to clients in hotels to sustain myself,” she said, adding, “I had to borrow money from the trust to ensure that my son completed his schooling.”

Sayyed currently takes home an income of Rs. 7,000 a month and is leading a team of about 60 former bar girls, teaching them English and other skills.



Indonesia Penalizes Parties in Fight for Women

By Bloomberg

July 17, 2013

When Diah Pitaloka took over the youth wing of Indonesia’s third-biggest political party two years ago, her male colleagues addressed her as “Pak,” which in Indonesian means “Mr.”

“Maybe they still want a man to lead them,” said Pitaloka, 35, who plans to run in next year’s legislative elections for the first time as a member of former President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle. “The fact is, I beat them. I told them it’s OK, you can call me anything — I’m still a woman.”

The world’s most populous Muslim country will now penalize political parties that fail to meet a requirement for females to make up at least 30 percent of candidates in the elections as it seeks to halt a widening divide between the sexes. Indonesia ranked 97th of 135 countries last year on the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index, down from 90th in 2011.

The names of female candidates will appear more prominently on voting forms and parties will face disqualification in districts where they don’t meet the quota, according to a law amended last year.

“It’s setting a good example in terms of really getting this into the whole political process,” Noeleen Heyzer, executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, said of Indonesia’s enforcement of the quota. “There’s a lot that can be done to improve gender equality and women’s empowerment in the country.”

Presidents’ daughters

Indonesia slipped in the World Economic Forum’s rankings because of a decline in the number of women in ministerial positions, according to its report. The country of about 250 million people ranked on par with Iran in the UN’s Gender Inequality Index last year.

Among Indonesia’s most prominent female politicians are the daughters of former presidents. Megawati, who lost the last two presidential elections to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is the daughter of Sukarno, the country’s first president who took power after declaring independence from the Netherlands in 1945.

“It gives us a cloak of influence because we’re able to knock on the door and people will open the doors because of the last name,” Yenny Wahid, the daughter of Abdurrahman Wahid, Indonesia’s fourth president, who also heads a political party, said in an interview. “The 30 percent quota is a big help because parties have no choice but to accommodate women.”

In 1990, the UN recommended that women hold 30 percent of leadership positions by 1995 and 50 percent by 2000. The global average now is 21 percent, according to data compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Nineteen percent

Females now hold about 19 percent of the 560 seats in Indonesia’s lower house of parliament, putting the nation 75th among 189 countries, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Achieving 30 percent participation would boost Indonesia to 30th overall and the third-highest in Asia after Timor Leste and Nepal, the statistics show.

During the reigns of Sukarno and Suharto, an authoritarian ruler who stepped down amid street protests in 1998, female lawmakers made up 13 percent or less of parliament in any given five-year span. A 2003 law stipulating a non-compulsory quota for women to make up 30 percent of candidate lists had little effect, with women winning 11 percent of seats in an election the following year.

While the number increased further after the 2009 election to about 18 percent, lawmakers amended the election law last year to force parties to comply with the quota in each of the nation’s 77 electoral districts.

Stricter Penalties

All of the 12 parties eligible to run in next year’s election initially complied with the quota, compared with almost none in the previous election, according to Hadar Gumay, a member of the General Elections Commission. While five parties were subsequently disqualified in certain districts after eight candidates were deemed ineligible, they will likely be able to replace them, he said.

“Before, there is no penalty at all — they just announce it and that’s it,” Gumay said. “If we don’t apply this regulation, I think there will be a lot of political parties that just ignore the quota.”

The affirmative action program is designed to combine opportunity with merit, according to Mari Elka Pangestu, minister for tourism and creative economy who is one of four women in Yudhoyono’s 37-member cabinet. Then-Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati stepped down in 2010 to become managing director of the World Bank.

Merit rewarded

“Affirmative action is to give the opportunity for the women to run for office in parliament, but whether or not they win is still based on whether they can win votes,” Pangestu said in an interview.

Under Indonesia’s electoral rules, voters pick from lists of candidates divided by districts. Since those at the top of the list often win seats, the new rules require every third nominee to be a woman.

Because only 12 parties will run in next year’s election, down from 38 in the 2009 election, candidates will need more than just name recognition to win seats, said Meutya Hafid, a former television journalist and a lawmaker with the Golkar party. In 2009, winning candidates included actress Rachel Maryam Sayidina and singer Theresia Ebenna Ezeria Pardede, who resigned last year to finish her master’s thesis.

“Before it’s like thousands of names, so these women first have to get their name noticed,” Hafid said. “But now it’s not good enough to be able to make people know your name — they also have to know your background.”

Quality Candidates

Pitaloka, who heads the youth wing of Megawati’s party in West Java province, said her team has advised her to avoid talking directly about women’s issues on the campaign trail. Her strategy is to focus on topics that overwhelmingly affect women, such as creating jobs for poor families.

“People don’t like the word feminist, and they don’t like people who talk mostly about women,” Pitaloka said, adding that she’s still optimistic females will make up at least a quarter of the parliament after the elections.

Even so, she says, the number of women in parliament isn’t as important as the quality.

“Many people still believe that women are not capable as leaders and not trained to be good decision makers,” Pitaloka said. “The important thing is to have women who can influence the parliament’s decisions.”



Rwanda woman jailed in US for lying about genocide role

July 17, 2013

A woman who lied about her role in Rwanda's genocide to gain refugee status in the US has been sentenced to 10 years in jail.

Beatrice Munyenyezi, 43, who has been in the US since 1998, once commanded a roadblock where victims were picked to be murdered, prosecutors said.

She was convicted in February of lying to federal authorities.

After she serves her US sentence, Munyenyezi will be deported to Rwanda where genocide charges could await her.

An estimated 800,000 people, mostly from the minority Tutsi ethnic group, were killed in Rwanda in 1994.

Munyenyezi is said to be the first person to be convicted in the US over the genocide.

She wept as she was sentenced on Monday in Concord, New Hampshire, to the maximum term possible.

During the hearing, Judge Stephen McAuliffe said Munyenyezi had "stolen the highly prized status of US citizenship".

As the genocide was ending in July 1994, she fled to Kenya, where she gave birth to twins.

She later entered the US as a refugee and settled in the north-eastern state of New Hampshire with the aid of relief agencies.

She attended university and worked in a city government office.

But witnesses said that she had been a commander of a roadblock in the southern Rwandan city of Butare, where Tutsis were singled out to be killed.

Defence lawyers plan to appeal Munyenyezi's conviction.

Her husband, Arsene Shalom Ntahobali, and his mother are both serving life sentences in Rwanda, where they were convicted of genocide charges.



Women on frontline in struggle for Western Sahara

Unusually for a Muslim country, Sahrawi women are leading the disputed territory's fight for independence from Moroccan rule

Loveday Morris for the Washington Post

16 July 2013

As dusk enveloped the salmon-pink houses of Laayoune, the brightly coloured robes of women stood out in a mass of protesters in the centre of the capital of Western Sahara chanting for independence from Morocco.

While other African colonies threw off occupiers one by one, this desert expanse on the continent's north-western coast remains a disputed territory controlled primarily by next-door Morocco and locked in a nearly 40–year struggle for the right to choose its fate. Unusually for a Muslim society, women play a prominent role in Western Sahara's independence movement.

Their involvement has spanned a guerrilla war and, for the past two decades, a mostly peaceful protest movement. Female activists in the former Spanish colony attribute this to a combination of the Sahrawi population's moderate interpretation of Islam and the freedom they derived from their nomadic roots – but also to the prevalence of traditional gender roles, which they say give women the time to demonstrate.

"This is a pride for us, that this is led by women," said Arminatou Haidar, a Nobel peace prize nominee and the most recognisable face of Western Sahara's nationalist movement.

But as its duration shows, the campaign is an uphill battle that has so far been won by Morocco, which annexed most of Western Sahara after the Spanish withdrawal in 1976. Morocco argues that Western Sahara with its rich fishing grounds, lucrative phosphate mines and offshore oil – is an integral part of its territory and that separatists represent a fraction of the population of about 500,000.

That is now probably the case, because Moroccan citizens – whom the Moroccan government entices to the area with tax breaks – are now believed to outnumber the 150,000 or so Sahrawis inside the territory by at least two to

Most nations, including the US, do not recognise Morocco's sovereignty over Western Sahara, but calls by the Sahrawi people for a referendum on independence have made little traction. Experts say that is due to a combination of Moroccan lobbying against the proposal, lack of international will to upset one of the region's most stable countries and arguments between Morocco and the Sahrawis' rebel movement-turned-government-in-exile, the Polisario Front, over who should vote.

one. Moroccan officials argue that an independent Western Sahara is not viable and that its longtime enemy Algeria is backing the cause to stir problems.

"There is no room for a failed state in the region," Moroccan deputy foreign minister Saadeddine Othmani told reporters in May. "It will fall into the hands of extremists."

Despite regular protests, victories are small. Still, it appears to have brought about a shift in Moroccan policy, which now supports making Western Sahara an autonomous region within the Moroccan state.

"Even if I don't reach that day when the Sahara is independent, I am completely convinced that the next generation is going to live the day of independence," Haidar said.

Instead of the dozens of people that most protests draw, the May march drew well over 1,000, hundreds of them women. Some activists described it as the largest in the history of the independence movement, and they attributed the crowd in part to anger over a recent UN security council decision not to approve a US proposal to grant the UN peacekeeping mission in the Western Sahara a mandate to monitor human rights. The United States later abandoned the proposal after strong opposition from Morocco, which cancelled a joint military exercise between the two countries in protest.

The role of women can be partially attributed to the Sahrawis' nomadic background, said Djmi El Ghalia, a prominent activist. While men travelled, women controlled household finances and ran the community. That legacy was consolidated in the refugee camps in Algeria, home to the Polisario Front and an estimated 165,000 Sahrawis who fled during the 16-year war with Morocco, which ended in 1991. Women are responsible for much of the administration of the camps.

"Compared to the status and role of women in the Islamic societies along the Mediterranean coast, Arabia . . . women in Western Sahara enjoy significant advantages," said Jacob Mundy, an assistant professor at Colgate University and co-author of Western Sahara: War, Nationalism and Conflict Irresolution.

"The war gave women in the camps more opportunities to become involved in the daily operations of the independence struggle and the effort to build a state in exile," he said, while across the border in the territory, female activists play a "huge role".

Sahrawi female activists say they generally have freedom to express their political views, and women divorce without stigma.

Female empowerment spans both ends of the political spectrum, and some women work in support of the Moroccan government. Malainin Oum El Fadl is among them. She heads Espace Associatif Laayoune, a women's collective that gives grants to small businesses and was established after thousands of Sahrawis set up a protest camp near the capital in 2010, which was later dismantled by Moroccan authorities.

"We wanted to absorb that tension," El Fadl said. "We are not concerned with politics . . . To us, bread comes before politics."

And not all is positive for women in the Algerian camps, where there have been reports of women being imprisoned for adultery and they remain excluded from the highest political posts. In Western Sahara, too, while traditional gender roles have freed women to push for independence, those norms also often mean they do not pursue careers.

"It's about the space provided," El Ghalia said. "Women stay at home and get more involved; at the same time, men don't want to lose their jobs."

Women have paid a high price for their role in the struggle. Both El Ghalia and Haidar spent years in detention centres in the late 1980s, when forced disappearances of Sahrawis were widespread.

Sitting in a traditional tent erected on the rooftop of her Laayoune home, El Ghalia pulled back her headscarf to show her scarred scalp, which she said was doused in chemicals while in detention. She said she spent most of nearly four years blindfolded and was often stripped naked and subjected to torture. "I still have the scars from the dogs biting my flesh," she said.

Though the darkest abuses are over, they still go on. Last month, Human Rights Watch reported that Moroccan courts have convicted Western Saharan activists on the basis of confessions obtained through torture or falsified by police.

In a hotel in Laayoune, another activist, Sultana Khaya, recalled a 2007 protest during which she said a policeman beat her face, causing her to lose one eye. She showed bruises from a recent run-in with police.

"This is just small testament compared to the testaments of other Sahrawi women since 1975," said Khaya, 32. "The Sahrawi woman is very great; she's very powerful. I don't even think about getting married until the Sahrawi women become independent."



Saudi Human Rights Commission Seeks Faster Resolution of Cases Related To Family Issues

17 July 2013

The Saudi Human Rights Commission (HRC) has identified several loopholes in the justice system when it comes to the implementation of women's rights, including the absence of an effective civil code, in a recent report.

The report said that in addition to there being no uniformity in rulings by various judges dealing with women’s issues on account of the absence of a civil code, it also led to delays in delivering judgments in family cases like alimony, custody of children and visitation rights, which require quick decisions. The HRC report also pointed out that women were facing difficulties in securing their rights in family cases. In fact, in some cases, they are deprived of their rights mainly because of the other party failing to show up at court hearings and attempts to stall them.

“This is because of the lack of executive judges who can pursue the implementation of verdicts and prevent attempts to stall the issuance or obstruct the execution of verdicts,” the HRC said.

The report said women should be given the right to information at government departments and facilities, including providing a female employee to deal with them.

Rules and procedures should also be put in place for automatic documentation and issuance of civil records like marriage, divorce, birth and death, which would enable both husband and wife to obtain official copies when required. This requires the electronic linking of the Civil Status Department and the Ministries of Health and Justice and departments under their jurisdiction, the report said.

The commission stressed on the need for women to have the right to movement and transportation required to make a living and also called an urgent legislation to protect women against abuse, including provisions to deal with domestic violence, cases of women being prevented from getting married and sexual harassment cases, with specific penalties set for all these crimes.

It also called for “regulations to protect the rights of under-aged children from persons who have their legal custody.” These regulations should also define a legal age for marriage.

The commission said some women’s male guardians, whether the husband, brother or father, treat them unfairly, stripping them of their freedom, self-determination and control over their money.

“The worst case of injustice occurs when a divorced woman with children is left high and dry, without any alimony and not even a place to live in.” Other issues include the male guardian preventing a working woman from marrying mainly for monetary gain and forcing minor girls into marriage, the report said.



Documentary to chronicle Malala's education for children campaign

 July 17, 2013

LOS ANGELES: Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head and neck by the Taliban last year for demanding education for girls, will be the subject of a documentary film, its producers said on Tuesday.

Davis Guggenheim, who won an Oscar for the 2006 environmental documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” starring former US Vice President Al Gore, will direct the yet-to-be-titled documentary that is slated to be released in late 2014.

The film will follow Yousafzai as she campaigns for the right of children to education, said producers Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, who also produced the 2007 drama, “The Kite Runner.”

Yousafzai was targeted for killing by the Taliban in October last year because of her campaign against the group’s efforts to deny girls like her an education.

She not only survived the attack, but recovered to the extent that she celebrated her 16th birthday last week with a passionate speech at the United Nations in New York.

“There are few stories Laurie and I have ever come across that are as compelling, urgent or important as the real-life struggle of Malala and her father Ziauddin on behalf of universal education for children,” Parkes said in a statement.

The teenager was treated in Pakistan before the United Arab Emirates provided an air ambulance to fly her to Britain, where doctors mended parts of her skull with a titanium plate.

Unable to return safely to Pakistan, Yousafzai enrolled in a school in Birmingham, England in March.

“Let us pick up our books and pens,” she said in her UN speech. “They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution.”

The film will be funded by Image Nation Abu Dhabi, a subsidiary of government-owned Abu Dhabi Media, which is based in the capital of the United Arab Emirates.



Afghan lawmakers take aim at women's rights - HRW

 16 Jul 2013

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Afghanistan's lower house of parliament seems intent on further weakening inadequate legal protections for women’s rights, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday, urging lawmakers to reject a proposed criminal law revision that would make prosecutions of domestic violence impossible.

A new draft of the criminal procedure code, seen by the New York-based rights group, is currently being considered by Afghanistan’s parliament. It contains language that would prevent relatives of a criminal defendant being questioned as a witness against the accused. If the provision becomes law, victims and other family members who have witnessed abuse will be silenced in domestic violence cases, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.

“Afghanistan’s lower house is proposing to protect the batterers of women and girls from criminal punishment,” Brad Adams, HRW's Asia director, said in a statement. “Legislative approval of this criminal law revision would effectively stop prosecutions of people who beat, forcibly marry, and even sell their female relatives.”

If the code is approved, it would water down Afghanistan's 2009 Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women (the EVAW Law), which provides criminal penalties for abuses including rape, child marriage, forced marriage, domestic violence and the practice of giving away girls to resolve disputes between families.

Members of parliament opposed to women’s rights have increasingly sought to repeal or weaken the EVAW Law, which has been a crucial tool for fighting violence against women, HRW said. For example, a debate on the law in May was halted after 15 minutes when parliamentarians called for revisions that would have eliminated the minimum marriage age for girls, abolished shelters, and ended criminal penalties for rape and domestic violence.

The lower house (Wolesi Jirga) has also tried to revise the Electoral Law to get rid of a quota reserving at least a quarter of seats in the country's 34 provincial councils for female candidates. This move was rejected by the upper house.

HRW's Adams called on international donors that provide aid to the Afghan government to "serve notice that they will not underwrite legislative initiatives to victimise women”.                                                                                                    


The rights group noted other recent developments which it said indicate "a broad-based attack on women’s rights". They include the president's appointment to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission of a former Taliban government official, Abdul Rahman Hotak, who has publicly denounced the EVAW Law.

In early July, an appeals court ordered the early release of three family members convicted for the torture and starvation of a teenage in-law, and on July 3, unidentified assailants shot and killed the most senior female police officer in insecure Helmand province on her way to work, HRW noted.

Meanwhile, a delegation in Geneva for the first review of Afghanistan’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) last week assured the United Nations that the Afghan government was committed to implementing CEDAW and promoting women’s rights.

“While Afghan officials give lip service to women’s rights at the U.N., the president, parliament and courts are actively undermining those rights,” Adams said. “Afghanistan’s foreign donors should be loud and clear that they won’t stand by while Afghan women’s hard-won rights are swept away.”

In a more positive development, Reuters reported on Tuesday that a group of female Afghan lawmakers and activists were eyeing an alliance with religious leaders, hoping to promote and enhance women's rights through Islam in a joint campaign.



Supporting Afghan Women, With or Without Troops: Researcher HRW

By Mick Krever, CNN

 July 17, 2013

Even without troops in Afghanistan, the international community can and should support women’s rights, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.

“International oversight doesn’t require soldiers on the ground,” Heather Barr, who has spent six years in Kabul, said. “As long as the international community is paying for President Karzai’s army and President Karzai’s police force, the international community has leverage.”

All they need to do, she continued, is focus that leverage on women’s rights, something she claims they have not done so far.

“There’s a very strong feeling in Kabul these days,” Barr said, “that the U.S. has stopped caring about what Afghanistan looks like in 2015 or 2020.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that all gains made by women in the past decade have been because of the international community, Barr explained.

“They happened because of Afghan women, and men who support them,” she told Amanpour. “International intervention just provided some space and some financial resources to support that.”

The critical role for the United States, she went on, is not to let its frustrations with the Afghan government or President Karzai get in the way of protecting women.

“There’s a rollback on women’s rights in Afghanistan that’s starting now,” Barr said. “It’s not starting after the troops have gone at the end of 2014.”



Afghan Women Get Empowerment Boost: UK

 July 17, 2013

LONDON, July 16 (UPI) -- The British government said Tuesday it was committed to a program meant to strengthen the role of women in Afghanistan's political system.

Afghanistan is scheduled to hold provincial and presidential elections next year. Past elections were seen as skewed in favor of President Hamid Karzai. Women in the Afghan political system are marginalized and female leaders are often killed for taking part in an environment dominated by conservative Islamic principles.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a Tuesday update to members of Parliament the government was supporting women's political rights in Afghanistan.

"The U.K. has agreed a new program in Afghanistan to strengthen Afghan women's political participation, as candidates and as voters, in the upcoming elections," he said in a statement.

The British government, he said, has committed $6.7 million though December 2015 to support the effort.

Hague said he shared U.N. concerns about human rights in Afghanistan. Karzai in June appointed officials to an independent human rights commission, though the British government said it questioned the qualifications of the some of the appointees.

International forces are preparing to transition to an advisory role in Afghanistan as their combat obligations end next year.