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Women

Afghanistan lawmakers cite religion in blocking legislation to protect women

Lawmakers in Afghanistan have blocked legislation proposing a minimum marriage age for girls, and women not being prosecuted for rapes committed against them. Some said such laws might encourage sex outside of marriage.

Failure to pass the law highlights how tenuous women's rights remain a dozen years after the US-led war led to the overthrow of the Taliban, which kept women virtual prisoners in their homes. Khalil Ahmad Shaheedzada, a conservative lawmaker for the Herat province, said parliament withdrew the legislation because of opposition from religious parties that considered the law un-Islamic.

"Whatever is against Islamic law, we don't even need to speak about it," Shaheedzada said.

Using executive authority, President Hamid Karzai had created the Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women in 2009. Parliament would eventually have to endorse it, however - or not.

'These ideas'

The law would have criminalized domestic violence and protected victims from themselves facing criminal charges after men had raped them and banned "baad," which allows for the commercial exchange of women to settle disputes. Religious representatives objected to more than half a dozen parts of the legislation, including a minimum marriage age of 16 for girls and supporting shelters for women whose husbands had abused them.

Shaheedzada claimed that the law might encourage promiscuity and reflected values not applicable in Afghanistan.

"Even now in Afghanistan, women are running from their husbands. Girls are running from home," Shaheedzada said. "Such laws give them these ideas."

Women's work

Fawzia Kofi, a lawmaker and women's rights activist, brought the legislation up for a vote to prevent a future president from reversing it under pressure from religious groups.

"Unfortunately, there were some conservative elements who are opposing this law," said Kofi, who is running in next year's presidential election. “What I am disappointed at is because there were also women who were opposing this law."

More than 60 women serve in Afghanistan's 352-member bicameral National Assembly, though most do so thanks to constitutional provisions reserving certain seats for women. The Taliban had banned women from working and attending school - even leaving home without a male relative - and forced them to wear head-to-toe burqas under penalty of execution for the most severe offenses.

mkg/jr (Reuters, AP)