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Women in Afghanistan: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

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It seems that whenever women make progress, they take two steps forward and one step backward. I've been highlighting the progress that women have made in Afghanistan. That country has a higher percentage of women in their Parliament than we do in America, 25.7% compared to our 17%. That quota wasn't given to the women as a gift; they received it because they demanded representation in their government.

Two steps forward.

Despite their presence in Parliament, a new law was recently passed that forces women to take one step backward, if not more. The good news is that President Hamid Karzai has promised to review it to see if it conflicts with the Constitution. The bad news is it's on the books (he signed it) and it restricts not only women's rights of expression, but also a woman's right to step out of her house without her husband's permission.

It sanctions marital rape. Women are forbidden to work or receive an education without a husband's permission. The bill was written by Shiite clerics and applies only to Shiite women, but the power of the conservative religious forces that want to leave women poor, ignorant, and subservient is clearly evident.

It is dismaying to see that women can continue to be treated as chattel. The recent widely publicized video of a woman screaming for mercy during a public whipping for an unknown crime (speculation is she stepped out of the house unaccompanied by a man) in the Swat, Taliban controlled area of Pakistan reminds us that we have much work to do just to stay in place.

Women's groups and some NATO countries have voiced their objections to the new Afghan law and public outrage followed the video of the public whipping.

Will that be enough? Not until these practices produce universal outrage will there be a possibility that the perpetrators of these practices will feel enough pressure to cease and desist.

This was originally posted at Chelsea Green.

Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.