Q&A: How does the Afghan Shi’ite law affect women?

Afghanistan’s Justice Ministry said on Monday a law for the country’s Shi’ite minority, which has caused an international uproar because of controversial provisions on women’s rights, is on hold and under review.

Following are some key facts about the Shi’ite Personal Status Law, based on a copy of the draft law obtained by Reuters.


The law was first discussed in parliament two years ago when Shi’ite parliamentarians said differences in their interpretation of Islam, compared to the existing civil law based on the majority Sunni religious law, needed to be legally recognised.

The lawmakers together with the Justice Ministry drafted a law, debated it in parliament about one month ago and presented it to President Hamid Karzai, who approved and signed the bill.


The United Nations agency for women in Kabul voiced concern last week about the impact it would have on the rights of Shi’ite women in Afghanistan after several female lawmakers said they were angry and concerned about some of the law’s articles.

The United States, Canada, Britain and NATO have voiced their concerns about the law and said it is must be reviewed.


According to a copy of the law obtained by Reuters, which included amendments made prior to Karzai’s approval, an article which can be seen to legalise marital rape has not changed.

This article sparked much of the anger and states that “a wife is obliged to fulfill the sexual desires of her husband”.

Another article which was also not amended states a woman cannot inherit any of her husband’s wealth when he dies.

The law also states that women are only allowed to have custody of their daughters after a divorce until the daughter reaches the age of 9.

An earlier draft of the law said that a woman was not allowed to leave her home unaccompanied by her husband and that the marital age for women started at 9-years old.

Both have been amended to permit women to leave their homes unaccompanied for employment, medical treatment or education, and the age of marriage for women has been raised to 16 years.


The law also contains articles which lawmakers say represent an improvement on existing civil laws, based on Sunni religious law.

For instance, the civil law states only men can initiate divorce from their wives, but the Shi’ite Personal Status Law says the wife is allowed to complain to a court and seek divorce from her husband if he cannot feed her, or if he does not have sex with her for four months.

It also says a husband must provide accommodation for his wife, that a wife can refuse to live with her in-laws should she wish so and depending on the circumstances, and that a wife is not obliged to provide home expenditures out of her own income unless her husband is unable to work. (Compiled by Golnar Motevalli; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)


Related Stories:
* Law for Afghan Shi’ites stirs anger, UN concerned
* Controversial Afghan Shi’a law on hold for review
* Afghan President Hamid Karzai promised on Wednesday to make changes to a new law for Shi’ite Muslims, if any part is found to violate the constitution, after provisions on women’s rights caused an international uproar.
* Top cleric rejects changes to Afghan Shi’ite law
* Afghan Shi’ite law not true to Islam says female governor

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