Source: The Times Online
A group of Afghan women who braved an enraged mob yesterday to protest against an “abhorrent” new Afghan law had to be rescued by police from a hail of stones and abuse.
The protest by about 200 women, unprecedented in recent Afghanistan history, was directed at the Shia Family Law passed last month by the Afghan parliament which appears to legalise marital rape and child marriage.
The rally, staged by mostly young women with their faces exposed, was a highly inflammatory act of defiance in a country as conservative as Afghanistan. It provoked a furious reaction from local men and a rapidly expanding mob threatened to swamp the demonstrators as they tried to approach the Afghan parliament.
“Go home if your mothers and fathers are Muslims,” one Shia cleric shouted at the protesters, who were pressed into an ever-tighter huddle as the crowd surrounded them. “These people will beat you if you stay.”
Some of the women appeared cowed by the aggression, staring blankly at the ground, but one shouted back: “If you were Muslims, you wouldn’t pass this law.” As the protesters continued to chant slogans they were often drowned out by counter chants of Allahu akbar (God is greatest). “I am not afraid. Women have always been oppressed throughout history,” Zara, an 18-year-old student, told The Times as men in the crowd lunged forward and screamed abuse.
“This law is against the dignity of women and all the international community opposes it. The US President calls it abhorrent. Don’t you see that actually we are the majority?”
The baying mob tore down banners, spat on demonstrators and hurled stones. As police struggled to maintain order, at one point the women appeared to be in danger of disappearing under a sea of shaking fists.
Women police officers drafted in to help to oversee the march attempted to link arms around the female protesters and riot police eventually succeeded in separating the rival groups sufficiently for the march to continue.
The new law, which applies to the 15 per cent of the population who are Shia Muslim, has drawn widespread international condemnation. President Obama called it “abhorrent” after leaked drafts of the law showed it was reintroducing restrictions on women imposed by the Taleban during their harsh reign. Carrying banners proclaiming “We want dignity in the law” and “Islam is justice”, the women’s march was initially matched by a peaceful counter-demonstration of 300 female religious students from Khatam-ul-Nabieen Shia University in Kabul, who were supporting the new law. The university is attached to the city’s largest Shia mosque, which receives Iranian funds and is overseen by Mohammad Asif Mohseni, a leading Shia cleric who has strongly backed the new law. Most of the women protesters were ethnic Hazaras, who make up the vast majority of Shias in Afghanistan and who have historically been a systematically downtrodden minority. Many were students from Kabul University, though there were also older women and a handful of Hindus and Sikhs among the protesters.