Monday, 6 April 2009

Afghan President reviews marital rape law

Following an international outcry, Afghanistans' President Hamid Karzai has agreed to revise a law allowing marital rape, and requiring women to seek the permission of their husbands before venturing out of their homes.

British PM Gordon Brown apparently lead the international condemnation of the law, saying "I phoned the president immediately about this because anybody who looks at Afghanistan will be worried if we are going to see laws brought in that discriminate against women and put women at risk."

It's a pleasant surprise to see Brown state unequivocally that women's welfare is an issue of human rights. He also stated it was unacceptable that British soldiers might die in defence of an oppressive regime, reminiscent of the Taliban. Fair enough - but lets hope the international community's commitment to women will be consistent and far reaching, beyond what is merely politically expedient.


Anonymous said...

It's fantastic that the Afghan PM is reviewing the marital rape law! I didn't expect that, let's cross our fingers. I'm very impressed with Brown's strong & prompt response to the outrageous law.

What do you think about John Key's response? He called the law abhorent, but he also said NZ would not be withdrawing support from Afghan, unlike the Australian PM's response [and Canada's response too perhaps? I can't remember].

I wonder what will happen with wearing burqas in Afghanistan now that they are strongly recommended but not compulsory. Whether women "choose" to stop wearing burqas will be dependent on whether that is okay with their father/brothers/husband. But we'll see what happens. Changing the law is a step forward. Also, the new Act raised the legal age of marriage from 9 to 16. There are some positive parts of the Act, but obviously some very oppressive parts as well, like legalising marital rape.

The Act seems to not merely decriminalise marital rape but to make a woman refusing sex (other than for sickness) an actual criminal offense. Not only does husband not commit a crime by raping wife, but wife commits a crime if she refuses husband. That is one step further than England ever took.

In the UK marital rape was made a criminal offence in a judicial decision in 1991 (the judges abolished the marital rape exemption clause). I have heard that marital rape was made a criminal offence in 1985 in NZ and in 1989 in Scotland and Australia.

I'm studying law and one 1975 UK case we have studied is about a man who gets drunk with a couple of friends at a bar, then invites them home to have sex with his wife. At home the man rapes his wife, then watches as his friends rape her. The friends were convicted of rape but the husband was not, due to the "marital rape exemption clause" - this is the idea that "marriage is a contract" whereby the wife gives consent to any future sex with her husband, under any circumstances, when she signs the marriage document! Nothing in the actual written marriage contract implies such consent. Perhaps a wifes 'consent' to any future sex was extrapolated from her marriage vow "to submit to her husband".

It is hard to believe that marital rape was not criminalised until 1991 in the UK, just 18 years ago. Particularly since there were cases that raised the issue in the 1960s, the 1970s & the1980s, yet each time the judges upheld the previous law that marital rape was legally 'impossible' because the wife gave her consent when she said 'I do'.

Anna said...

Hey Anon - have you ever read Carol Pateman? I can't remember the name of her famous book off the top of my head ... but she talks about marital rape, and issues of women and consent more generally, from a legal/political theory point of view. She's awesome!