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Afghan Parliament Halts Debate On Women's Rights Bill

After protests from some MPs and after only about 15 minutes, the Afghan parliament halted debate Saturday on a bill aimed at curbing violence against women.

As the BBC reports, the bill would have solidified a law passed by presidential decree in 2009, which banned "violence against women, child marriages and forced marriages."

Supporters of the bill wanted to bring it before parliament to make it more permanent. As is, a new president could scrap the decree but if the bill were passed by parliament, that would be more difficult.

The BBC adds:

"One of those against the move was prominent MP Farkhunda Zahra Naderi. She told the BBC after Saturday's events in parliament that her fears had been proved right.

"During the debate, mullahs and other traditionalist MPs accused President Karzai of acting against Islamic Sharia law by signing the decree in the first place, the BBC's David Loyn reports from Kabul.

"In particular, they demanded a change to the law so that men cannot be prosecuted for rape within marriage, our correspondent said."

The AP reports that the debate in Parliament was particularly heated around the issue of banning the prosecution of rape victims.

According to the AP, Nasirullah Sadiqizada Neli, a conservative lawmaker from Daykundi province, suggested that prohibiting the prosecution of rape victims "would lead to social chaos, with women freely engaging in extramarital sex safe in the knowledge they could claim rape if caught."

Fawzia Kofi, a women's rights activist and a potential presidential candidate, told the AP she was disappointed, especially because some of the bill's detractors were women.

The AP adds some background:

"Freedoms for women are one of the most visible — and symbolic — changes in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led campaign that toppled the Taliban regime. While in power, the Taliban imposed a strict interpretation of Islam that put severe curbs on the freedom of women.

"For five years, the regime banned women from working and going to school, or even leaving home without a male relative. In public, all women were forced to wear a head-to-toe burqa, which covers even the face with a mesh panel. Violators were publicly flogged or executed."

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