An ugly step backwards

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During recent International Women's Day festivities we were told that as far as women have come in the last few decades there's still a long way to go before they are treated with dignity, respect and equality.
News that the Afghan government recently passed legislation making it illegal for Shia women to deny their husbands sex is a definite step backward and is more in line with the practices of the former Taliban government than an emerging democracy.
Not surprisingly, the reaction here in Canada was one of anger, considering young men and women from this country are thousands of kilometres from home defending that democracy so there isn't a return to the dark days of Taliban rule, when women were denied the basics of life, such as getting an education and having a job outside the home.
The new legislation has re-ignited debate about this country's continued participation in a mission that some feel is unwinnable and unsustainable.
Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada, Omar Samad, was summoned by the Canadian government last week to explain his government's actions and was given a bit of a diplomatic dressing down. The 260-page law says, for example, that unless she is ill, "the wife is bound to give a positive response to the sexual desires of her husband."
The legislation would also make it illegal for the wife to leave the home without the husband's permission or to have custody over children. Samad attempted to soothe ruffled feathers by saying he understands the reaction. He suggested Afghan democracy is not at the same standard as Canada's and it's very different culturally as well.
As much as he attempts to say women in the new Afghanistan are far better off, Samad's explanation falls far short of a repudiation of the law. It's very evident women in his country have a long way to go before they are viewed as equals.
While it would be difficult for western nations to impose their cultural beliefs on the Afghan people, we must send the message that such decisions are intolerable and that continued participation in this mission must be tied to improving basic human rights, and that includes how women are treated.

Organizations: Taliban

Geographic location: Canada, Afghanistan

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