Afghanistan should adopt strong measures to protect women's rights

Kabul, June 28 (ANI): The Afghan government should adopt strong measures to protect women's rights in advance of the deadline at the end of 2014 for withdrawal of international combat forces, Human Rights Watch said today.

On July 10, 2013, Afghanistan will for the first time appear before the United Nations committee that will review its compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

In recent weeks, several incidents have increased concerns about the government's commitment to women's rights, Human Rights Watch said.

In May, President Hamid Karzai told women's rights activists that he is unable to support further efforts to protect Afghanistan's law against violence against women.

Also in May, an effort to gain parliamentary approval for a key law on violence against women ended in shambles, and the lower house of parliament voted to abolish a set-aside for women on provincial councils.

"President Karzai needs to understand just how high the stakes are for Afghanistan in the debate over women's rights," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Donors should be clear that if Afghanistan doesn't defend women's rights, the money will no longer flow for the army or the police."

Several women's rights activists told Human Rights Watch that Karzai told them at a May meeting that he "had done all he could for them and could not do any more" to protect the 2009 Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women (the EVAW Law). They said he advised them specifically to stop advocating for stronger enforcement of the EVAW Law.

Several members of Afghanistan's lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, have expressed increasing hostility toward women's rights and appear to be making a concerted effort to roll rights protections back, Human Rights Watch said.

A Wolesi Jirga debate over Afghanistan's groundbreaking EVAW Law in May was halted after only 15 minutes when several parliamentarians called for changes to the law, including abolishing the minimum age for marriage for girls. In ensuing days, several protests were held in major cities calling for repeal of the EVAW Law.

In mid-May, the Wolesi Jirga passed a revision of Afghanistan's Electoral Law. While the prior version of the Electoral Law guaranteed that at least 25 percent of seats in each of Afghanistan's 34 provincial councils would be reserved for female candidates, the amended law removed this provision and provides no set-aside provincial council seats for women.

The law was sent to the upper house of parliament, the Meshrano Jirga, for review, and it reinserted the language providing a set-aside for women on provincial councils. As required by the Afghan constitution, in circumstances in which the two houses of parliament produce different versions of the law, a joint commission of the two houses will now be formed to try to reconcile the differences and reach agreement on a final version of the law for adoption by both houses. (ANI)

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