WASHINGTON – Upon returning from an informative and productive trip to Afghanistan, a bipartisan delegation of female Members of Congress sent a letter to Afghanistan President, Hamid Karzai, expressing their deep concern about the treatment of women and erosion of their rights in Afghanistan under the Shiite Personal Status Law recently passed by the National Assembly. The delegation was in Afghanistan on a fact-finding mission over the May 9 and 10 weekend.
The delegation emphasized in the letter:
“This law has raised a furor, both among the Afghan public and the international community, because of its blatant violation of the fundamental human rights of women. The Shiite Personal Status Law legalizes marital rape, undermines womens’ parental rights in divorce proceedings, and restricts their rights to movement. While you have stated that the government is reviewing the law, it could be published and go into effect at any time. Therefore, we urge you to immediately act to amend the bill by removing the offensive sections before publication. This decisive action will alleviate the current fear and uncertainty as the August elections approach.”
“A key component to the stabilization and prosperity of Afghanistan is the full respect of women’s rights,” said Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA), Chairwoman of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee. “Progress is difficult, if not impossible, if half of the nation’s population is placed at a significant disadvantage. I hope that President Karzai will recognize this and take steps to protect the rights of Afghan women and include more women in the rebuilding of the Afghanistan.”
“Our troops are working hard every day to ensure that Afghanistan becomes a free and stable ally that will be a force for peace in the region rather than a staging ground for attacks on U.S. soil,” said U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL-13), who has worked personally with Afghan women for several years. “Protecting the rights of these women is critical to ensuring that we meet that goal and don’t turn back the clock on the progress we have made. President Karzai must immediately rescind this abhorrent law. Women in Afghanistan deserve to know that their daughters will grow up in a culture of dignity, security, and basic freedoms.”
“As a full partner in the international community, the Afghan government must respect women’s rights,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Vice Chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. “The Shiite Personal Status Law is dangerous– it instills fear and trepidation in women by sending the message they are worth less than their male counterparts, have no right to determine their own future, and worse yet, must forfeit their rights over their own bodies. While we must support Afghanistan as it builds the infrastructure and institutions that will allow the country to more effectively engage the global community, we must also insist that the government respect the rights of all people.”
“A nation cannot recover if fifty percent of the population is unable to participate in their country’s future,” said Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH). “After visiting Afghanistan and meeting with local women and girls, I remain deeply concerned about the lack of women’s rights throughout the country. I urge President Karzai to immediately rescind the Shiite Personal Status Law and to stand up for the women of Afghanistan.”
“I join my colleagues in urging Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai to take significant and immediate steps to protect the rights of Afghan women,” said Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD). “I was moved by the courage of the women with whom we met -- the mothers, sisters, and daughters who struggle each day under the most difficult of circumstances. The rights of women must be protected if Afghanistan is to become a prosperous and secure nation. I thank Chairwoman Davis for her leadership in organizing this Congressional delegation.”
“Our mission in Afghanistan is to disrupt terrorist networks and stop the spread of the Taliban,” said Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ). “But at the same time, President Karzai and the democratically-elected leadership of the country must do all they can to recognize and respect the women of Afghanistan and integrate them as equal members of their society.”
The full text of the letter is below:
May 14, 2009
His Excellency Hamid Karzai
President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Dear Mr. President,
As members of a bi-partisan Congressional delegation who recently visited Afghanistan over the May 9 and 10 weekend, we valued our time in your country and found it to be an informative and productive visit. However, we were deeply concerned to learn that your government has not rescinded the Shiite Personal Status Law that was passed by the National Assembly and you signed in April of this year.
This law has raised a furor, both among the Afghan public and the international community, because of its blatant violation of the fundamental human rights of women. The Shiite Personal Status Law legalizes marital rape, undermines womens’ parental rights in divorce proceedings, and restricts their rights to movement. While you have stated that the government is reviewing the law, it could be published and go into effect at any time. Therefore, we urge you to immediately act to amend the bill by removing the offensive sections before publication. This decisive action will alleviate the current fear and uncertainty as the August elections approach.
During our trip, we met with many Afghan women, from elected leaders to representatives of advocacy groups to average citizens. Many of them face violence in their own homes. Their voices are often not heard in the discussions that affect the future development of your country. As women representatives in the United States Congress, we have concluded that it is imperative that under your leadership, Afghanistan takes more concrete and substantial steps toward including women in the development of laws, programs and policies that are important to the future stability of your nation.
Women around the world seek the same goals—ensuring that their families are safe and secure; they have the ability to feed and clothe their families; have access to education for themselves and their children, and are able to receive health care when needed. Unfortunately, the security situation in most of Afghanistan does not allow women to feel safe or secure as they work to provide for the basic needs for themselves and their families. Mr. President, this situation must change if Afghanistan is to have a chance for a prosperous and secure nation that will be recognized and respected among the international community.
Members of the United States Congress share our views, and a resolution expressing their concerns with the Shiite Personal Status Law has been introduced. We look forward to working with you.
Susan A. Davis, Judy Biggert, Diana DeGette, Carol Shea-Porter, Donna F. Edwards, Ann Kirkpatrick
Members of Congress