Protecting the Rights of Afghan Women is AlterNet's Top Take Action Campaign This Week

News & Politics

The Afghan parliament is expected to soon approve revisions to its marriage law that will do very little in the way of improving women's rights. Despite recent demands that the country radically rework its policies on issues such as polygamy and a woman's right to work, Afghanistan's government is signaling a continued adherence to regressive traditions.

In a recent letter to Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, activists said, "slight changes in the wordings of the law, rather than changes in content," have rendered the revisions ineffectual.

Additionally, Shinkai Kharokhel, a lawmaker involved in the legislation, told the Associated Press on July 14 that the law's revisions do little more than uphold structural inequalities in the country. She said many Afghan women "are illiterate, and they don't have financial security and no one will give her money ... shelter, medical, food, all these expenses belong to the man, and he can hold that back."

What is perhaps most unfortunate among the "revisions" is the Afghan government's failure to erase a law that calls on women to engage in sex with their husbands at least every four days. Although the proposed revisions do eliminate a time frame for sexual requirements, they still allow a man to withhold financial support for his wife if she refuses to "submit to her husband's reasonable sexual enjoyment," Human Rights Watch has reported.

Women's rights issues in the country don't stop there; violence continues at an alarming rate. "The situation of women is becoming more disastrous," ex-parliamentarian and women's-rights advocate Malalai Joya told IPS news on July 17. "The killing of women is like killing a bird today in Afghanistan."

Elaborating on her claim is this excerpt from a recent U.N. report:

Violence against women is widespread and deeply rooted as well as acute. The violence that scars the lives of a huge proportion of Afghan women and girls is rooted in Afghan culture, customs, attitudes and practices.

Afghan women have limited freedom to escape the norms and traditions that dictate a subservient status for females. Women in Afghanistan are also subjected to the violence inherent in armed conflict that has intensified in recent years and is exacting an increasingly heavy toll on Afghan civilians.

Violence, in its acute form, makes it presence felt in widespread lawlessness and criminality. All these forms of violence are closely linked to a deeply entrenched culture of impunity that is, in part, an outcome of decades of conflict and indifference to a justice agenda that would also allow for a transition from, and draw a line under, a long history of egregious human-rights violations.

Helping Afghanistan's courageous women means accumulating international voices to condemn their mistreatment. You can be part of the solution here.

Here are the rest of our top 10 Take Action campaigns for the week.

II -- Demand That Iran Respect Human Rights

On July 25, demonstrators around the world will join to call on Iran to respect human rights, to free nonviolent political prisoners and end state-supported violence. Demonstrators will also demand an independent U.N. investigation on the most serious and systematic human-rights violations.

This "Global Day of Action" stretches across many countries and is coming to a city near you. Learn more about how you can participate here.

III -- Pressure Policymakers to Ratify CEDAW

Although it is a signatory, the United States stands out as the only industrialized nation in the world that has failed to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Among Women, or CEDAW. CEDAW, which puts forth a universal standard for women's rights, has been ratified by more than 180 countries.

It's up to us to see that the U.S. finally gets on board with this important legislation. You can get involved here.

IV -- Stand With Dr. Dean

In the past few weeks, the American public has watched with bated breath as President Barack Obama's health care overhaul withstands blow after blow. Though the president has, to his credit, stepped up efforts to push through a public option, his actions are taking their toll.

According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll released July 20, only 49 percent of Americans now say they approve of the way he is handling health care. That's down from 57 percent a month ago.

Obama's overall approval rating has also suffered, dipping below the 60 percent mark this week for the first time in his presidency. Nonetheless, Obama has remained steadfast. "We can't afford the politics of delay and defeat when it comes to health care," he said recently. "Not this time, not now."

Others are standing firm in their commitment to a public option as well. Former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean has amassed nearly half a million people who are willing to fight for the health care they deserve. You can join them here.

V -- Help Stop Anti-Union Violence in Guatemala

Since Congress passed the Central American Free Trade Agreement in 2005, Guatemala has become one of the most dangerous countries in the world for trade unionists. Nine were killed in 2008, and two were slain in 2007.

According the International Trade Union Confederation's 2009 report, "the situation [in Guatemala] has worsened for trade unionists. Anti-union violence is constant with assassinations, threats, harassment, shootings at people's homes, raids and attacks on union offices and assaults and harassment of trade union leaders and their families."

To find out how you can help the AFL/CIO battle such violence, click here.

VI -- Stop Indefinite Detention

Perhaps attempting to quash rumors that he would use an executive order to continue Bush-era detention policies, Obama last Thursday told the AP that he would consult Congress before making any decisions on the issue. "It is very important that the American people and Congress, in conjunction with my administration, come up with a structure that is not only legitimate in the eyes of our constitutional traditions, but also in the eyes of the international community," he said.

Indefinite detention is "one of the biggest challenges of my administration," he added. "It gives me huge pause."

His hesitancy to plow ahead unilaterally with legislation that would deny legal rights to "enemy combatants" is encouraging, but it also raises questions about where the issue might end up once it fades from the political limelight.

Obama has, after all, adopted a troubling, contradictory attitude toward the constitutional rights of prisoners. Earlier this year, in the midst of a well-publicized campaign to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay, he approved a $750 million expansion of Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan -- another preventative-detention facility that operates outside any legal jurisdiction.

Equally controversial is Obama's refusal to pull indefinite detention from the bargaining table altogether, a move that has infuriated human-rights advocates.

"Any continued policies of prolonged detention without trial of Guantanamo detainees simply fails to turn the page on the counterproductive policy of the Bush administration," Human Rights First's Devon Chaffee told the Washington Independent. "We oppose any prolonged detention without trial beyond what is already authorized under the laws of war. If an individual committed acts of terrorism, they should be tried in our regular federal courts."

Obama has said the White House intends to "proceed very carefully on this front." But his floundering rhetoric indicates just the opposite. It's time to let the administration know that it must put an end to George W. Bush's egregious violations. The White House must not continue to chip away at universal ideals of compassion.

Join thousands of others who are telling Obama that they oppose indefinite detention, whether through executive order or through congressionally approved legislation. You can do it here.

VII -- Keep Oil Drilling Away From California's Coasts

The Tranquillon Oil and Gas Project, which was denied by California's State Lands Commission in January, is once again being considered through state budget legislation. Not only would a ratification of this project be destructive for the environment, it would also send a dangerous political message: that special interests can undermine California's state processes.

"At a time when new offshore drilling threatens our coasts around the nation, it is more important than ever to ensure that our decision-making processes are sound, independent and resistant to tampering by special interests, regardless of the circumstances," the Surfrider Foundation's Environmental Director Chad Nelsen has said. Here's how you can help.

VIII -- Reform Broken Immigration Policies

U.S. immigration policies are tangled, damaging and nonsensical. They shred family ties, cause a whirlpool of wage decreases, deplete the workforce and do nothing to improve national security. Each year, we spend billions of dollars to maintain the broken status quo. It's time for a change.

Obama supports such a change, but only Congress can draft meaningful legislation. It's up to us to make it understand the necessity of reforming immigration policies. Join others at Reform Immigration for America who have already made their voices heard.

IX -- Repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

Among the most thinly veiled examples of institutionalized homophobia in the United States is "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the military's absurd requirement that gay men and lesbians remain silent about their sexual orientation.

It's outrageous and homophobic to think sexual orientation has some bearing on an individual's ability to perform his/her job. Yet the U.S. continues to maintain this bankrupt policy. Let your representative know that you've had enough. Tell him or her to ditch "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

X -- Stop Dogfighting

This past week, authorities in seven states carried out an enormously successful crackdown on dogfighting. Police seized 450 dogs in what animal-welfare advocates are calling the largest of such simultaneous raids in history. Many of these animals are now being evaluated for adoption.

Dogfighting is rarely an isolated incident of animal cruelty; often, it is part of a complex criminal network. There is no doubt these networks will continue to proliferate, so it's up to us to see that they are closely monitored. Urge the governors of Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas to stay vigilant.

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