April 16, 2009 in Nation/World

Afghan women pelted at marriage law protest

Heidi Vogt Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

An Afghan police officer pushes a counterprotester during a demonstration in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Wednesday by women protesting a controversial new marriage law.
(Full-size photo)

KABUL – Dozens of young women braved crowds of bearded men screaming “dogs!” on Wednesday to protest an Afghan law that lets husbands demand sex from their wives. Some of the men picked up small stones and pelted the women.

“Slaves of the Christians!” chanted the 800 or so counter-demonstrators, a mix of men and women. A line of female police officers locked hands to keep the groups apart.

The warring protests highlight the explosive nature of the women’s rights debate in Afghanistan. Both sides are girding for battle over the legislation, which has sparked an international uproar since being quietly signed into law last month.

The law says a husband can demand sex with his wife every four days, unless she is ill or would be harmed by intercourse. It also regulates when and for what reasons a wife may leave her home without a male escort.

Though the law would apply only to the country’s Shiites, who make up less than 20 percent of Afghanistan’s 30 million people, many fear its passage marks a return to Taliban-style oppression of women.

A host of Afghan intellectuals, politicians and even a number of Cabinet ministers have come out against the law. But those who decry the legislation face quick criticism from conservative Muslim clerics and their followers, as Wednesday’s protests showed.

“You are a dog! You are not a Shiite woman!” one man shouted to a young woman in a head scarf.

The woman, who held a banner reading “We don’t want Taliban law,” replied quietly: “This is my land and my people.”

In the end, more women demonstrated in favor of the law than against it: A few hundred Shiite women marched with banners to join the angry men.

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