Ban on full-face veils instituted in Afghanistan
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Ban on full-face veils instituted in Afghanistan

Kabul : Afghanistan | Mar 31, 2012 at 8:53 PM PDT
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President Hamid Karzai - Afghanistan: The London Conference

In a sudden and shocking move, Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has authorized a ban on wearing full veils in public places. This revolutionary action makes Afghanistan the first Islamic country to impose restrictions on a form of attire that many Muslims consider a religious obligation.

President Hamid Karzai has been widely criticized for doing little to protect women's rights in the country and end traditional practices like giving away daughters to settle family scores, forced and under-age marriages, requirement for husband’s permission to work, and violent abuse by husbands and close relatives, including denial of food and sustenance if wives refuse to obey their husbands' sexual demands.

The criticism has recently intensified when the Human Rights Watch released a report, which revealed that nearly half of all women in Afghan prisons are being held for "moral crimes" such as running away from home or adultery and that Afghanistan is “the only country in the world that interprets sharia law to prohibit women from running away from their home without permission.”

This extensive worldwide outburst of criticism forced President Karzai to exploit more radical options to improve his poor record on women’s rights. Beginning April 1, 2012, women won’t be allowed to wear niqabs and burkas, cloths fully covering the face and body, respectively, on Mondays, liable to a 20-year imprisonment or stoning.

The new law, that follows France’s ban on wearing full veils in public places in 2011, is an experimental effort and, according to Karzai, “It was more reasonable and feasible to limit it to just one day a week.” The President expects vicious and violent opposition to his new decree and will extend the full veils ban gradually to more days a week only when able to manage anticipated brutal resistance to the new law.

Human Rights Watch was fast to respond to Karzai’s highly unexpected decree and, while they’re “simply in awe of the President Karzai’s extremely bald move”, they expressed concern about the very likely possibility that women will be persecuted even more with the implementation of this new law.

“I’m deeply worried that, on one hand, women will be jailed and prosecuted by wearing burkas on Mondays and, on the other hand, brutally beaten by their husbands when trying to obey the new law and discard their traditional clothing on this one day,” said Rights Watch’s executive director, Kenneth Roth.

Roth is also extremely troubled by the severity of punishment for women not obeying the new law. “We’ve been committed to fighting against stoning and saving its victims, and we can’t support this form of punishment as it’s the violation of human rights. We’d like to encourage President Karzai to modify the new decree and employ less severe penalties like a small fine, for example.”

Time will show whether Karzai’s bald and rather revolutionary move is the right approach to fight separatist tendencies among Muslims and improve women’s social rights in Afghanistan. It may not change anything and simply force women to stay at home on Mondays enjoying the long weekend every week - if there's such a thing as "enjoying the weekend" for Afghan women.

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Do you want to know a secret? This report is not entirely true! Read about it here and belated Happy April Fools’ Day!

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Women wearing the burka
Women wearing the burka in Baharak town, Afghanistan. Photograph: Tim Wimborne/Reuters
Bea_Shaylee_Sayers is based in San Francisco, California, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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