Sexual Freedom in Afghanistan—HAH!

KABUL, Afghanistan—According to Undersecretary for Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy, the United States' mission in Afghanistan, aside from "disrupting, dismantling and defeating al-Qaida and its extremist allies and ensuring that Afghanistan does not return to being a safe haven for terrorists," is now, at least in part, "[r]eversing Taliban gains and securing the population... and providing a secure environment in which Afghan governance and development programs can take root and grow."

However, according to The Guardian (UK) news site, one of the Afghan "governance and development programs" has been a recently-enacted law, apparently only applicable to the 20% of the population which follows the Shia sect of Islam, which allows Shia husbands to "withhold food" from their wives if the wife refuses to have sex with her husband.

"The Shia Personal Status Law, the most egregious of a series of deals to appease fundamentalist religious leaders and former warlords, contains many provisions that are offensive to women," wrote Human Rights Watch's Afghan representative Rachel Reid in an op-ed for the Washington Post. "Custody rights are granted exclusively to fathers and grandfathers. A woman can leave the house without her husband's permission only if she has 'reasonable legal reasons,' which are unspecified. Yet the law does stipulate financial compensation to be paid by a man who rapes a child or a mentally ill woman, for her loss of virginity, while omitting any reference to a criminal punishment."

While the new law, put into effect by Afghan President Hamid Karzai on July 27, is something of an improvement over an earlier version—that one required Shia women to have sex with their husbands every four days at a minimum and effectively condoned marital rape by removing the need for the wife to consent to sex—its denigration of Afghani women's rights in order to curry favor with fundamentalist Shiite leaders (and, some say, even the Taliban) has engendered disgust from human rights groups around the world.

"What matters more to Karzai is the support of fundamentalists and hardliners here in Afghanistan whose support he thinks he needs in the elections," Reid said, referring to the country's presidential election scheduled for Thursday. "When I ask diplomats here what deals with the Taliban will mean for women, I get platitudes and assurances that officials are 'only talking to those who sign up to the Afghan constitution.' But if the president does not feel bound by the constitution's promise to make men and women equal before the law, should anyone believe it would constrain a former insurgent? As one female activist told me: 'Deals with the Taliban will mean everything we have achieved in the last eight years could be lost. It will have been only a dream.'"

So perhaps Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who's just concluded an 11-day trip to Kenya, Congo, South Africa and other countries in the region, during which, according to a Washington Post article, she "us[ed] her star power to boost women who could be her allies," might think about making a similar effort in Afghanistan.

"It's just a constant effort to elevate people who, in their societies, may not even be known by their own leaders," Clinton said of the effects of her trip. "My coming gives them a platform, which then gives us the chance to try and change the priorities of the governments... Raising issues like the ones I've been raising on this trip to get governments to focus on them, to see they're not sidelined or subsidiary issues, but that the U.S. government at the highest levels cares about them, is important. It changes the dynamic within governments."

Considering that the U.S. apparently plans to be in Afghanistan for several years to come, maybe President Karzai could use a little "Hillarycare" also. Certainly, Afghani women could.