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Why Afghanistan’s Family Shia Status law must be changed

A point of view from an Afghan Shia, Hazara woman
Zareen Taj
Monday 4 May 2009

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My Voice

My name is Zareen Taj and I am from Afghanistan. I am a women’s rights/human rights activist, living in the United States. I have a B.S. in Political Science and Women’s Studies, and a M.S. in Women’s Studies. I am writing this letter to denounce parts of the Family Shia Status Law that was recently signed by President Karzai and is currently un der review by the Ministry of Justice in Afghanistan. Parts of this law would adversely affect Hazara women. I am an Afghan woman, a Hazara woman and a Shia woman. I fall into all three categories that would be affected.

I draw my authority to speak from that fact and as my position as an insider of the Hazara Shia community. Reading the facts and consequences of this law has enraged me over about what is going on in Afghanistan and how the conservatives and extremists have found another way to oppress Hazara women. The west has only focused on the “marital rape” issue, not all the facts and consequences of this law.

This law has 250 restrictions on women. I have been in contact with Hazara women leaders and activists who have denounced this law. So my voice is the voice of all Hazara women in Afghanistan. This law violates the constitution of Afghanistan, which says women have equal rights and can be president. However, if a woman is not allowed to go out from her house, how possibly can she become president? How can she go to court when her rights are violated at home or she is being abused by her husband?

Zareen Taj visiting Bamiyan, in front of the Budda statues that had been blown up by the Taliban.

Family Shia Status Law

A part of the current Family Shia Status Law’s stat ed intention was to regulate marriage, divorce, and inheritance issues for Afghanistan’s Shia population. It should be noted that the country’s Shia population represents approximately twenty percent of the total population. Of that twenty percent, ninety-five percent are the Hazara ethnic group. Sections of this law adversely affect the movement, rights, welfare and freedom of Hazara women.

The most restrictive sections of the law legislates the most intimate and personal family matters: in one section women are forbidden to leave the house without the husband’s permission, he decides what are urgent or legitimate reasons; in another section women must wear makeup when asked by their husbands; in yet another section women are required to have sexual relations whenever the husband wants. There are many more unacceptable and controversial sections, all which conspire to keep the women prisoners in their homes and make them prisoners and slaves of the men.

Sections of this law are contrary to the Constitution of Afghanistan. Sections of this law erase the many gains that women have made these several years and the many rights that are enshrined in the constitution. Sections of this law tighten the yoke of oppression around the neck of Hazara women.

The main proponent behind this law is Sheikh Asef Mohseni. He has a dark past history of human rights violations. Mohseni pushed this law to please extremists and to move his political agenda forward. One of the results of this law will be an increasing hostility towards the Hazara community in general and Hazara women in particular.

Two cousins hold a portrait of their fathers who were killed by Taliban in Yakaolang Bamiyan.

Background on the Hazara in Afghanistan

The Hazara is a minority ethnic group in Afghanistan, which makes up the third largest ethnic group in present-day Afghanistan. Throughout their history, they have been the most persecuted, marginalized and oppressed ethnic group. There have been many wars and military campaigns to exterminate the Hazaras. Some of these wars and campaigns are: Abdul Rahman’s extermination campaigns in the 1880s and 1890s, which wiped out sixty-two percent of the Hazara population; the Afshar massacre in 1993 (over 1,000 killed); the Mazar-e Sharif massacre in 1998 (over 8,000 killed); Bamian massacres in 1998-99 and 2001; the Yakaolang massacres in 1999 and 2000.

The Taliban have targeted Hazaras for extinction because they considered them to be infidels. Their Mongol characteristics have made them distinct from the other ethnic groups and have caused them to be singled out for persecution. The Hazaras have been fighting for their very existence, rights, and identity for centuries. The history of Hazara has always been a history of suffering, a history of oppression and a history of struggle for existence and survival. This law continues that oppression.

Hazaras place the strongest value on education. Hazara people believe their survival is based on obtaining an education and freedom for women. Because of this value Hazara women have much freedom in their community to get an education, employment and to move freely without restriction from their homes and community in general. This law restricts their mobility and freedom.

Zareen Taj interviews Habiba Sarabi, currently governor of Bamiyan, and Afghanistan’s only woman governor.

Hazara Women Leaders

Within the Hazara community, the freedom, mobility and lack of restrictions have allowed women to participate in all walks of life. As a result, we have=2 0many Hazara women leaders and activists. For instance, the first head of the Women’s Ministry was a Hazara woman; the first head of the Human Rights Commission is a Hazara woman; the first Governor of a province in Afghanistan is a Hazara woman; the first female Mayor in the country is a Hazara woman. They have never received threats from Hazara men because of their position. In 2004, I went to Afghanistan for research and to make a documentary. As a Hazara woman I was welcomed by the Hazara people in Hazarajat. For over two months I never felt threatened. Nobody objected to my research or my crews with cameras. This law will prevent these accomplishments in the future.

Who supports this law?

The supporters of this law come from many interest groups. First, there are those who feel this law represents a form of Shia pride. Now mostly the illiterate and elders of Shia feel this law creates a Shia identity and provides recognition of their Shia religion in Afghanistan, which gives the m pride and identity. They support this law because it is a Shia law, without knowing the entire law or the consequences of this law. Second, there are those who feel the law reinforces the classic patriarchal boundaries on women that have been eroding with their new found freedoms. Third, there are those who wish to advance their political agendas under the guise of “Shia Family law”. To challenge a religious law brings immediate condemnation and accusations of blasphemy and infidel. Fourth, there are those who feel that this law will silence any modern, progressive thinking and advancement. People are afraid and intimidated to speak out publically for fear of all kinds of retribution. This law will silence those individuals.

This specific support by these kinds of people and groups should be viewed as a red flag and a serious warning signal of the rapidly advancing attacks on women’s freedoms. These warning signs represent a backward sliding into previous darkness and a silencing and censorship of those who would speak out in Afghanistan.

A hopeless woman in Bamiyan who has lost everything.

Why Karzai signed this law

I believe that when President Karzai signed this law, he has shown that he is taking this country in the wrong direction and does not support equality and freedom for women. When President Karzai signed this law, he did so in contradiction to Article 22 of the Afghan Constitution. When he signed this law he did so in contradiction to the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, to which Afghanistan is a state party. My question is “was President Karzai aware of the law’s contents and consequences? He admitted that he signed this law without reading it. This shows how irresponsible he is toward our country and demonstrates that he just wanted to please the conservative mullahs to get their political support in the upcoming election.

Consequences of the law

The consequences of the law are many. First, it is a step backward for all women in Afghanistan. It is a double step back for Hazara women because they enjoy more freedom than most. Second, it is a threat to women’ s freedom and mobility. Third, it affects all Hazara women who are head of hous eholds. Fourth, it negatively affects all women’s rights in divorce, child custody, marriage, and inheritance situations. Fifth, it allows a creeping “Talibanization” of society under the guise of “Shi’a family law. Sixth, it creates a triple oppression for Hazara women (gender, ethnic and religious discrimination). Seventh, it gives more freedom to extremists to oppress women without any restriction.


Finally, this law should be changed because of what it represents at its very core. It devalues women as human beings, patronizes them as if they were children, and continues a sanctioned system of male dominance. It is morally wrong, a stain on the ground of Afghanistan and has caused both outrage and embarrassment for us.

I speak for all Hazara women as I say emphatically and without reservation, we want the international community to hear our cries, recognize our struggles, and fight to deliver us from the effects of this oppressive law and what it represents. Hazara women want to have the freedom to utilize their talents. We cannot do that with the restrictions of this law. The world should hear our voices as we demand that the government of Afghanistan change this law. Hazara women want to make it extremely clear, that the people who drafted this law do not and never will represent our community and values.

Watch Zareen Taj’s video made when she was in Bamiyan.

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Forum posts

  • Great article!
    You Afghan women are the real heroes in that shaken country. The new law is such an offense to the human right and absolutely not to tolerate.

    Thanks and all the best for you

    • Women who are real believers are the heroes and that can be anyone in any part of the world.
      I am sure you know nothing about the law and for your information the law is not new but a way of life practiced for centuries and getting updated by Mujtaheds ( scholars) accordingly.
      If you are really educated then you would think for while about the term of human rights and its real definition , Geneva declaration which has many problem in itself and not updated for decades and your unrealistic picture of Shiite community and Afghan society. The last point is that you tolerate to be the victim and used like a product but not being cared, married and loved in a real family... this is great!

  • Ms.Zareen

    its beautifully written!
    all the best

  • Dear Ms Taj,
    You can not speak for all but yourself and couple of people playing double role for making careers, keeping their positions and pleasing the sick politicians.
    However, the role of religions to societies, individuals, and Humanity itself is a very important aspect of the response to all your baseless remarks. Your need to wake up sister and stop dreaming about Afghanistan and the Shiite or the sunnit way of life. You better have a look to the statistic of crimes in the society you live in...for the models you are talking about ...for the solutions you are proposing...
    I believe you need to real education for real life if you catch on what is happening! Regards

  • Zareen Jan
    Excellent article. Please keep up your good work.

  • Zareen,

    Fantastic article! I wish Afghanistan had more educated person like you.

    • Dear Jawid,
      Education is not getting a degree from Harvard or Oxford only but to understand the matrix of life and our responsibilities for the side effects of our comments and contributions...
      Ms Zareen needs to be given basic education about Afghanistan and Islamic way of life rather than misleading the new generation...

      But you are right it is a fantastic article for the school and university only!

    • Dear readers, if it is islam that an adult man can marry an young child like 9 years old then forget about it.
      as in hazaragi we say that "bacha chab wa ras khu na moofama" then how can we allow to pass a law which restrict to marry a 9 years child according to this new shia family law.
      Dear readers be logical jus think, that why we are oppossing taliban? we are not living in stone age, and the comments we are giving on the favoure of this law gives profit only to the religious fanatics, and one thing should be clear for all, that it does not matter who is behind this law (asif mosini,ayatullah khaminai,taliban,soudi fanatics) we should resist this crap of peice by any means.
      at last I want to add for some misundersdood people that if ammerican or europion socities have many problems it does not mean that we favour inhuman laws in our socity.
      I appreciate zareen for her effort going back to afghanistan making a documentory about the genoside of taliban against men,women, children and civilians and sharing her voice with the voice of others by opposing this discriminated law.

    • Dear Joya and supporter of Joyas! I would like to recall my comments on the issue for your consideration.
      Here we talk about the way of life for a society not a product to be sold by any means and any way possible. To purchase even a product we need the expertise of certain specialists for the right usage and credibility of the item. But how is it possible to imagine life without regulation and certain principles? We are created by Allah and He sent the laws for the right way of living through our prophets who were the right experts and interpreted by Imams...
      The same principles and mechanism are implemented by Mujtaheds ( scholars) who are interpreting them according to the time and challenges we are facing...
      I admire your courage but it is misleading and wasted that you, Ms. Zareen and some other individuals who are lost in the merchants of cools, proposing others nothing but a tragedy and your over confidence will draw young generation to the stage of disaster if you would not wake up and think about your poor comments given to your sisters and brothers with best intention.

    • "To purchase even a product we need the expertise of certain specialists for the right usage and credibility of the item."

      But humans are not brainless lifeless "products" why not allowed to be brainwashed by religions without choice that say that only religions ’can know the answers for how to live’ - which is proven not true at all in secular countries.

      Besides how come that despite so many religeous rules for muslims in Islamic countries that these are not perfect at all with have plenty of crime and corruption?

      What you believe is exactly that - you believe - but have no proof except that you accept what you are told to believe is true - in your case Koran/Mohammed.

      "We are created by Allah and He sent the laws for the right way of living"

      Sure - including laws against basic Human Rights; and cruelty instituted in ’sharia’, but if you can convince me otherwise - please do.

    • thank you for your comments on my view, I would like to invite you to think about this complicated world.
      this world is so waste and most of thing are still a phonemina for the humane bieng,but the case of religion is solved, just think of old believes of ancient world like the metholgy of old greek,ancient believs of egypt or babul and nenava and it is the experts who read and proved that all old believes of us were wrong.
      what the mujthahid (relegious scholers) or what ever you say, says very simple things:
      how to have bath after you sex.
      how you do wazoo before namaz ( even we are living in very higen enovoirnment today then ever )
      the briedge of salat so thin that no one can pass eccept the relegiuose people.
      the first night grave the earth press you very hard.(what a nonesens, the bone of ancient people we found today is even not broken a singal eccept the joints)
      the section 32 and 33 of family sharia law is not acceptable for any civlised person.
      to restrict women by these laws:
      going out of women.
      have a sex when ever man wants is sill.

      and I also invite to think what Iran mullahs are doing from 30 years.
      1) high employment in iran cuasing great social problomes.
      2) high death sentences ratio
      3) high prostitution in every city
      4) extriem discrimination againt women
      5) extriem torture agianst the oppositions
      you tell me in the shia governement of relgious cleric why thy could not solve the problems, simply becuase relegion can cop the social phenomina of this univers.

  • Salam and greeting to all readers!

    I think we are taking this law out of context. I am not too aware of this law passed on Shiate women in Afghanistan, however if this law is from our Prophet and our Imams than i do not disagree with it. When it says that women cannot leave home without permission of her husband it is true in islam, However the husband are not cruel to do that unless there is reason for it. on the other hand if a women is not happy with the man married. She can always ask for Talaq which will free her from the husband she does not like. I think we need to have a holistic view on this law rather than looking at from only one angle.

    Islam is the only religion that gives women the most complete right. If we are not practising, it is completely a different matter.

    In conclusin I encourage miss Zareen on her effort and wish her to do more research and better her opinion on this issue.

    Zinda bad Zareen

  • @ Zinda bad Zareen

    I hope you realise that all Afghans are victims of State Theological Dictatorship core Koran backed up by sharia punishments as Islam’s ’Inquisition’ why Muslim women and men have no freedom at all - born muslims - no choice from birth until they die - forced to remain muslims - are never given a change to think differently and if they try, speak or write against anything Islam, or want to leave Islam and say so, Afghans are sentenced to life imprisonment and sentenced to death - or murdered by Islamist Talibans - with as reason Koran and ’our Prophet’ that deny Muslims the basic Human Right to Freedom of Religion

    Freedom? What is your definition of that? As I read what you write you have none yourself - born Muslim - you believe that oppression of Muslim woman is O.K. when done by ’our Prophet’ as said by imams ’husband can imprison his Muslim wife’; further condescending ’for their own good’ as if Muslim women are children unable to make rational decisions.

    But oppression is that - oppression ordered by whichever ’source’ considered ’holy’ or not; and imprisonment is that - imprisonment - used by Penal Laws for criminals.

    First Basic Human Right is to be allowed freedom of movement and not to be caged by anyone ’stay at home for your own good’ as that suits only Muslim men - condoned in the male-centric Koran - where all oppression of Muslim women and men comes from - but Muslims can’t see this - including the author who specifies ’shi’a law’ but is nothing else but Koran ’our Prophet’ laws.

    • To freedom fighter!

      I live in the west i have done most of my education in the west. I am quite familiar with democracy and freedom.

      I have done alot of comperative studies between Islam and otherwise. when i said about Prophet and Imam i mean it.

      Islam gives every one the most complete freedom a human deserve, however some time we abuse the freedom and call it democracy.

      I do not fever the Sharia law passed by the taliban in Afghanistan, However if people understand true religion of Prophet and Imam they will never be miss guided and every body will prosper.

  • salam Miss Zareen
    It is good to catch up with you. That is a great article. unfortunately there is no any right for women in Afghanistan. I hope Afghanistan will get fully democratic country where every one can enjoy human rights.

    Haider ali khan

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