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Western media and women in Afghanistan

April 6, 2009

Afghanistan parliament passes a new family law that discriminates against women including the sanction of marital rape. This new family law is for the Shiite minority (10% of Afghanistan population; the rest are Sunni) and is getting lots of attention from human rights critics. The new law includes: restrictions on women who want to leave their homes or obtaining medical care without their husband’s permission, and women may not refuse their husbands sex. These regulations were signed into law by Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai last month.

Karzaii is defending the law and released a statement saying, “The Western media have either mistranslated or taken incorrect information and then publish it. If there is anything in contradiction with our Constitution or Shariah, or freedoms granted by the Constitution, we will take action in close consultation with the clerics of the country.”

Once the media got hold of this news, it was published in almost every major news source and all over the web. It’s very rare that we see discrimination against women getting this much attention in the media. Considering that Afghanistan is playing a central role in many countries’ (including the U.S.) foreign policies, it deserves this attention. As the U.S.’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said to reporters that this new law “is an absolute concern for the United States . . . My message is very clear. Women’s rights are a central part of the foreign policy of the Obama administration.”

Perhaps this great attention held by Western media sources will make up for the lack of free speech within Afghanistan. I certainly don’t think that the media is misinformed but I don’t think that Karzai expected this much attention from one law. It has sparked so much attention from not only the media but also global policy makers that this law is now being reviewed.

That’s what the media is for: dialogue and change. People should be reporting on a family law discrimination such as this one because it not only helps to discuss discrimination about Afghani women, but women all over the world (like in Botswana). Let this family law discussion be a stage for people to talk about the status of women.

For more information about the status of women in Afghanistan, please click here.

Sources:  New York Times, The Guardian, CBC News, and Feminist Daily News Wire

UPDATE: See this new post I wrote as a follow up. To tell Karzai what you really think about the new family law in Afghanistan, click here.

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