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Bad news from Afghanistan: President Karzai looks to have backtracked on promises to review a law which would have legalised rape within marriage in the Shia community, among other provisions. An earlier version of the law triggered protests by hundreds of women in Kabul back in April, you might remember. It looks like the reports are all based on a final version of the legislation acquired by Human Rights Watch.

The Guardian reports:

Afghanistan has quietly passed a law permitting Shia men to deny their wives food and sustenance if they refuse to obey their husbands’ sexual demands, despite international outrage over an earlier version of the legislation which President Hamid Karzai had promised to review.

The new final draft of the legislation also grants guardianship of children exclusively to their fathers and grandfathers, and requires women to get permission from their husbands to work.

“It also effectively allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by paying ‘blood money’ to a girl who was injured when he raped her,” the US charity Human Rights Watch said.

In early April, Barack Obama and Gordon Brown joined an international chorus of condemnation when the Guardian revealed that the earlier version of the law legalised rape within marriage, according to the UN.

Although Karzai appeared to back down, activists say the revised version of the law still contains repressive measures and contradicts the Afghan constitution and international treaties signed by the country.

Islamic law experts and human rights activists say that although the language of the original law has been changed, many of the provisions that alarmed women’s rights groups remain, including this one: “Tamkeen is the readiness of the wife to submit to her husband’s reasonable sexual enjoyment, and her prohibition from going out of the house, except in extreme circumstances, without her husband’s permission. If any of the above provisions are not followed by the wife she is considered disobedient.”

If you want to help in solidarity with Afghan women, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan has a list of suggestions – right now they are asking for donations of digital cameras.

Madre also runs a survival fund for women activists:

The Fund supports an underground rescue network of women committed to providing shelter and secret transport to women who have been targeted because they dare to speak out for human rights.

The Fund provides cell phones to link partners in the rescue network, and covers costs of emergency medical care, food, shelter, local and international transportation, and clothing and other personal effects for women who are forced to escape quickly.

Also see this recent post on the Madre blog about the situation in Afghanistan for women.