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Afghanistan: Law Restricts Women’s Rights

(Apr. 7, 2009) A law recently passed by both houses of Afghanistan's Parliament and signed by President Hamid Karzai but not yet published is reported to re-introduce restrictions on women's rights that were in place previously under the Taliban. The provisions are applicable to the Shi'a Muslim minority in the country that constitutes 10 to 15 percent of the population (Sunni Muslims are the majority group). The provisions regulate family relations, divorce, and property rights. Included are articles said to explicitly permit marital rape, as well as provisions denying Shi'a women the right to leave their homes except for “legitimate” purposes and banning married women from working or receiving an education, unless their husbands expressly permit them to do so. The law decreases mothers' rights in divorces and prevents women from inheriting houses and real property from their husbands. (Afghan Law Restricting Women's Rights Reminiscent of Taliban Era – Top UN Official, UN NEWS CENTRE, Apr. 2, 2009, available at
; Golnar Motevalli, Law for Afghan Shi'ites Stirs Anger and Concern, REUTERS, Apr. 2, 2009, available at

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, described the new legislation as a step in the wrong direction. She said, “[t]his is another clear indication that the human rights situation in Afghanistan is getting worse, not better. … Respect for women's rights – and human rights in general – is of paramount importance to Afghanistan's future security and development.” (UN NEWS CENTRE, supra.)

The new law was defended by legislator Sayed Hussain Alem Balkhi as an improvement in some respects over older laws. Describing the improvements, Balkhi said that under the new law, but not the previous one, a “Shi'ite woman can go out for medical treatment, [or] to see her parents without the permission of her husband.” (REUTERS, supra.)