Afghanistan: Women’s rights are human rights

By Beryl Wajsman on April 9, 2009

It was a mistake from the beginning to allow the recognition of state faith into Afghanistan’s constitution. It was an even greater error to allow the organization of faith-based political parties. Now the west’s encounter with Afghanistan will be put to an important test. And Canada has a profound role to play.

 Fundamentalist Shia clerics in Afghanistan pushed for the primacy of Sharia law, and exclusivity of it in family law matters. Not satisfied with this, they recently demanded, and obtained passage of what has come to be pejoratively called Afghanistan’s “Rape Law”.

 This legislation effectively makes prisoners of women in marriage. It eliminates the criminal concept of rape if committed within a marriage. It legislates sexual submission of women. And it eliminates custody rights of wives over their own children. 

woman-in-burkabw.jpgOne of the realities of Afghan life that coalition nations, and particularly Canada, are proud of is the elevation of the civil status of women. Under the Taliban regime it was not uncommon for girls to have acid thrown in their faces if they had the temerity to go to school. Women didn’t face glass ceilings – they were imprisoned by brick walls. Figuratively and sometimes literally. If not bricks then burqas.

 Today, some six million girls and young women attend schools at various levels. This could not have been dreamed of eight years ago. Women are taking their rightful place in politics and the professions. And now because of the political clout of Shia clerics, that is being threatened. That is not what the best of our young people are fighting, and in some cases dying, for.

 Coalition soldiers went there to make people free. Free from the theocratic tyranny of the Taliban. Free from existential threats of Al-Qaeda. It is a noble and necessary effort. That nobility should not be compromised by political expediency. By submission of the Karzai government to theocratic tyrants who may be less deadly to the body than the Taliban, but are just as deadly to the soul.

 There can never be freedom when more than half a nation’s population is treated as less than second class citizens.  We Canadians are in a unique position to stop it. Our contribution to the survival and success of the Afghan democratic experiment is vital. What we as citizens here need to do is encourage our government to continue sending the strong signals it has already begun to send that what is happening is unacceptable.

 Prime Minister Harper needs to hear from Canadians that his message is right and that we would support an even stronger one. Our sacrifice in blood and treasure was not made for the abrogation of basic principle. Human rights, without women’s right, do not exist. And the Karzai government must understand that this is a primordial foundational principle of our engagement in his country.

 Canadians have proudly and boldly paid the price and borne the burdens for the survival and success of liberty. But not a truncated liberty.  Freedom is indivisible. Freedom is not susceptible to the compromises demanded by cultural relativism. No culture has a right to be wrong.

 Our engagement in Afghanistan is based on just cause. If this law is not revoked, we should make it clear to President Karzai that Canada is prepared to leave. We cannot be partners in the making of a moral desert and calling it peace. 


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Editorial Staff

Beryl P. Wajsman

Redacteur en chef et Editeur

Alan Hustak

Senior Editor

Daniel Laprès


Robert J. Galbraith


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