A partnership of HuffPost and the

Women's Rights, Rape and Religion

Some here in the West have reacted with shock in response to the new Afghanistan law that gives Shiite men permission to rape their wives, even though President Hamid Karzai claims that we're simply misinterpreting this law. In other words, we've lost something in the translation. I won't pretend to know if that is the case or not, but I don't think it's too big of a stretch to believe that women's rights are once again being compromised. I was struck by Dexter Filkins' recent New York Times article, Afghan Women Protest New Law on Home Life. In part, he said,

Women are mostly illiterate in this impoverished country, and they do not, generally speaking, enjoy anything near the freedom accorded to men. But there they were, most of them young, many in jeans, defying a threatening crowd and calling out slogans heavy with meaning.

With the Afghan police keeping the mob at bay, the women walked two miles to Parliament, where they delivered a petition calling for the law's repeal.

"Whenever a man wants sex, we cannot refuse," said Fatima Husseini, 26, one of the marchers. "It means a woman is a kind of property, to be used by the man in any way that he wants."

To imagine that this injustice goes on in today's world is confounding. However, before we are too quick to feel evolved in comparison, in another part of the world, namely here in the United States, there is an isolated society dominated by men who maintain that a woman's purpose is to have babies, lots of babies. Even though there is a marked difference from the women in Afghanistan, since the LDS women were given permission recently to discuss their lifestyle with Oprah, one wonders how guarded they had to be in order not to disobey the higher order.

Both aforementioned societies are extreme in the nature of their beliefs, but one does not have to be a polygamist or live under the Islamic law to be required to live under the authority of one's husband. There are many fundamental Christians who believe in the infallibility of the Bible and the verses are meant to be unchallenged. This is why those following the Bible insist that a woman is to submit to her husband. To justify their stance, they often quote Ephesians 5: 22, 23: "Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body."

Long ago, when I was an active member of a Bible-preaching church, this verse got a lot of discussion, leaving many women in a state of confusion, not to mention frustration. After all, to challenge such a notion meant not only subverting their husband's authority, but the authority of their god. This also meant that they were expected to "put out" whenever the husband demanded, in addition to accepting the rules of his household, even if those rules were irrational.

When women tried to discuss the possibility that perhaps something was missing in the translation, one of the responses from the pastor was to quote Ephesians 5:25: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." This was determined to mean that if he was ever required, the husband was to die for his wife. On first look, it does seem to be quite a big deal and how can a woman complain about her duty of submission after hearing that? However, how many men are actually called upon to die for their wife? In reality, it's the day-to-day living for her that necessitates more sacrifice. These religious texts, supposedly inspired by a higher authority, were written and interpreted by men. And if one questions this thinking, one is considered a heretic or worse and the ramifications can be dire. For instance, the lives of the Afghanistan women protesting the rape law are in danger because it appears that they are challenging the Koran.

Whether here in the United States or in Afghanistan, rape is not necessarily an act of violence. The word "no" should mean just that, but if the husband refuses to honor the wife's wishes and she is then forced to relent, she's been raped and her right to her own body has been forfeited. Once again, it's all because of a belief system that allows one gender to wield power over another. This is not to say that a woman doesn't have the right to follow her beliefs and succumb to the dictates of her religion, if she so chooses--"chooses" being the operative word. Yet, how many of these women were born into a household where they were inculcated and not given an opportunity to entertain other possibilities?

The difference between our Afghanistan sisters and those living here in the United States is that escaping from a domineering marriage can mean possible death without punishment for the husband since the government recognizes Islamic law as the law of the land. As for here in the United States, it may not be the government imposing restrictions on women, not yet anyway, but rather it's the weight of imposed guilt gained from a book, inspired or not, and written by men.