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Afghanistan: New Law Places Restrictions on Women

(June 12, 2009) A controversial Afghan law that many Western analysts equate with legalizing rape was put into force after it received the approval of the Afghanistan Parliament (both the lower and upper house) and was signed into law by the President Hamid Karzai in March 2009.

“The passage of the law has amounted to something of a historical irony,” an article in THE NEW YORK TIMES noted. Afghan Shiites, who comprise about 20 percent of the population, were regarded by the Taliban as apostates and suffered for it. (Dexter Filkins, Afghan Women Protest New Law on Home Life, THE New York Times, Apr. 15, 2009,available at The majority of the population in Afghanistan, including Pashtus, Tajiks, Baluchis, and others, are followers of the Sunni sect of Islam. Following the collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the Shiites have been enjoying a renaissance and a new prominence, which gave rise to the view that a separate Personal Status Law, applicable only to Shiite Afghans, should be adopted. Afghanistan's Civil Law contains family law inspired by the Sunni tradition.

The new Personal Status Law for the Shiite minority contains some provisions that essentially give clerics authority over intimate matters between women and men. Women in Afghanistan and rights groups abroad have protested three parts of the law in particular.

1. Article 132 states: “…It is the duty of the wife to defer to her husband's inclination for sexual enjoyment.”

2. Article 132 also states: “If a man demands his wife to apply makeup on behalf of the man, she is obliged to do so…”

3. Article 133, section 2, states: “If a wife has employment before marriage and continuation of the job is conditioned at the time of the marriage contract, in this situation the husband cannot oppose the wife's employment after marriage, unless such employment is against the interest of the family or one of the spouses.”

(Shiite Personal Status Law, REFWORLD, [Unofficial English translation by the United States Agency for International Development] (Mar. 2009), available at; Husband Can Refuse to Feed the Wife, IRAN TIMES INTERNATIONAL [in English], May 8, 2009, at 6; Filkins, supra.)