Women Would Gain Constitutional Protections

Women Would Gain Constitutional Protections

After all, Sibghatullah Mujaddidi, the chairman of the gathering, announced early on that, in Islam, a woman had half the rights of a man.


Yet Mujaddidi went on to decide that one of the four deputies overseeing the convention should be a woman, and the delegates voted for Safia Siddiqi to fill the post. Mujadidi also chose Siddiqi to serve as spokeswoman for the gathering.


Siddiqi now says that Mujaddidi was only joking when he made his comment about women’s rights. “Mujaddidi is in favour of equal rights for men and women”, she said.


With a final vote on the new constitution approaching, it appears that women indeed will have made some gains – at least on paper – in the proposed document.


One of the most important gains was the decision by the coordination committee to specify in the document that the term ‘citizen’ should apply to both men and women. For Afghan women, this was an important step, since they have often been deprived of many of the basic rights afforded to men – from voting to education.


Women delegates and human-rights organizations had been pressing for this specific point, since other articles in the original draft constitution referred to the rights of citizens but failed to make clear whether the term referred to women as well as men.


At a news conference, Siddiqi said that as the word ‘citizen’ will refer to both men and women in the new constitution.


Some, however, still have their doubts and believe that there need to be more guarantees for women written into the constitution.


Some male delegates still have very traditional views about the place of women in society, and were loath to give them more rights. Zarghoona Nehan, a woman delegate from Kabul, said that Afghan constitutions “have always been drafted by men, and implemented by them”.


Another woman delegate, Sima Joyenda from Ghor Province, said that “if our brothers do not listen to us and do not reply to our problems, how can we claim that we have equal rights?”


And at least one male delegate shared their concerns.


“If you write 2,000 articles about the equality of women's rights and do not implement them, it will be useless”, said Nader Khan Katawazi, a delegate from Paktia Province. “Islam has given more rights to women than even the West argues they should have”, he told IWPR.


Katawazi argued that civic education centres should be set up in villages around the country to explain the rights of women to the people.


Jamila Mujahed, one of the secretaries of the Loya Jirga, agreed. She said “these rights must not only be written into the constitution, but must be implemented. This is our main goal. We want rights as given to women in other Islamic countries”.


Among those right, women delegates contend, is the right to run for president.


Massouda Jalal, a woman delegate from Badakhshan, caused a stir at the Loya Jirga in June 2002 when she presented herself as a presidential candidate against Hamid Karzai. Jalal came in second in the voting among delegates, receiving only 171 votes to the nearly 1,300 cast for the victorious Karzai.


Still, her nomination was unprecedented in Afghanistan, even though women have led other Islamic countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia.


The draft constitution released on Monday does not mention gender in the qualifications for president. Jalal said she intends to stand again for the presidency in the elections due next year.


The draft document is also seen as providing women with additional protections against domestic abuse. Article 54, for example, states that “Family is a fundamental unit of society and is supported by the state”, and that the state will take steps to eliminate “traditions contrary to the principles of the sacred religion of Islam.”


Observers said this article could cover a number of ‘traditions’, but the most obvious the elimination of forced marriages and the practice of paying for brides.


Meanwhile, Article 26 says that “crime is a personal action” and that the criminal’s arrest and penalty “cannot affect another person”. This would help protect women from the practice of forcing them into marriages as a way to pay for crimes committed by their brothers.


Ultimately, the Loya Jirga’s greatest achievement may have been that it gave 100 woman delegates the opportunity to speak as representatives of the people.


Lailuma Sadid and Hasina Sulaiman are independent journalists who are participating in IWPR's Loya Jirga reporting project.


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