Many things are wrong with journalism, and not just reporting on Afghanistan. But what has obliged me to speak today is this report posted on line by the Associated Press and appearing as a headline story on my Yahoo email account. As if endless advertisements for Acai products (accompanied by distorted, pulsating pictures of doughy female flesh that are supposed to make me hate myself) are not enough, today I was greeted by this headline: "Afghanistan tones down contentious marriage law."
You remember that contentious law -- the one applying to Shiite women that made it legal for their husbands to rape them? The one signed by our democratic ally Hamid Karzai? "The new version," you will be glad to hear, "no longer requires a woman submit to sex with her husband, only that she do certain housework." The housework will be agreed to at the time of the marriage, and please be assured that women who were until today legally rapable will be allowed to refuse any jobs they think are unfair or degrading, or that they think their husbands ought to do for themselves.
Yeah sure. Although there is still no guaranteed right for girls to attend school, according to today's revision Shiite women in Afghanistan can now leave the house without their husbands' permission, and they may keep their own property. That is, if they are not concerned about being beat down by a group of family members who think they have crossed the line. Or a husband who has had a bad day.
Nowhere does the story mention that rape, while codified as a crime against humanity according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 1998 is, appallingly enough, not a stand-alone crime in international law. However, some of the international criteria listed in the Rome Statute might characterize some marriages, in Afghanistan and elsewhere. How about: imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law; torture; rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity; other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.
In fact, if we were to acknowledge that there is a war on women in parts of the world not necessarily defined by national boundaries, ethnicity or religion, could we be getting somewhere with this problem?
But let me just say, Mr. AP Editor: the Afghan marriage law wasn't a "contentious" marriage law, and it wasn't a bad law just because a bunch of feminists got their knickers in a twist over it. It was a criminal marriage law.
Otherwise known as a crime.
UVA Legal History Workshop
14 minutes ago