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MRG concerned about impact on Shi’a women of new law in Afghanistan

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Minority Rights Group International is seriously concerned about the impact on Shi’a women in Afghanistan of a new law approved by President Hamid Karzai that severely restricts women’s rights.

The Shi’a personal status law has been criticised by women’s groups for allowing a husband to withhold food from his wife for not having sex with him, restricting women from working without permission and denying women’s custody rights over their children. It was expected to be discussed in parliament but was hurriedly approved by President Karzai reportedly to win over political support of senior Shi’a leaders ahead of Thursday’s presidential elections.

A separate family law for the country’s Shi’a, mandated under the constitution, was a longstanding demand of a community which feared the imposition of a family law code dictated by the majority Sunni. Many Shi’a in Afghanistan, including the Hazara, endured grave human rights abuses under the religious strictures of the Taliban.

MRG says the law, which appears to have been passed in the name of protecting the rights of a religious minority community, is however a violation of international laws on women’s rights.

‘While protecting cultural and religious freedom of a minority community is important, international law does not permit it to happen at the expense of the rights of members of the minority – in this case Shi’a women,’ says Kathryn Ramsay, MRG’s Gender Coordinator.

‘States have an obligation to protect women’s rights, to eradicate harmful cultural practices whether they are minority or majority practices and not to condone and give them legal status,’ Ramsay adds.

The legislation was reportedly passed by Presidential decree in mid July and gazetted on 27 July. MRG calls on the Afghan parliament to prioritise a debate on the law and take necessary measures to amend it. MRG also calls on Afghanistan to ensure that any future legislation is in compliance with international human rights standards, including those on women’s rights, which Afghanistan has already ratified.

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