Last Friday, the Council, Afghanistan’s highest Islamic authority, issued a non-binding edict saying that women were worth less than men — a statement released by Karzai’s office and then endorsed by the president on Tuesday.
“Men are fundamental and women are secondary,” it said, adding women should avoid “mingling with strange men in various social activities such as education, in bazaars, in offices and other aspects of life”.
Such advice effectively implies that women should not go to university or to work at all, no matter that in the lower house of parliament, for example, 27 percent of seats are reserved for women.
The edict went on to say that women would wear “full Islamic hijab”, should respect polygamy — Islam allows a man to take up to four wives — and comply with Sharia law on divorce, which severely restricts women’s rights.
It further stated that “teasing, harassing and beating women” was prohibited “without a sharia-compliant reason” — leaving open the suggestion that in some circumstances, domestic abuse is appropriate.
Karzai, who has formally outlawed violence and discrimination against women, caused consternation on Tuesday by publicly endorsing the statement, saying that it “reiterated Islamic principles and values” in supporting women.
In response, Afghanistan’s first deputy speaker, Fawzia Koofi, who was this week listed as one of the world’s “150 Fearless Women” by US website The Daily Beast, accused the Council of returning women to the dark days of Taliban rule.
“This move by the Ulema council drives Afghan women rights towards Talibanization,” she told AFP. “Nobody has the right to interfere in women’s rights, not even President Hamid Karzai.”
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