x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Afghan MP spells out woes of women

Spousal abuse law is not working because men make the rules

Shinkai Karokhail speaks at a Women's Day Forum in Abu Dhabi.
Shinkai Karokhail speaks at a Women's Day Forum in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // A female member of the Afghan parliament has said misinterpretations of Islam and ignorance of the Arabic language have been used against women in her country for decades.

At a forum run by the Insead business school to mark International Women's Day yesterday, Shinkai Karokhail said that she would keep working to secure a better life for Afghan women, despite being shunned by some in her community.

Ms Karokhail said that since 2005, when she became one of the first women elected to the Afghan National Assembly, she had pushed for a law to grant women basic human rights, including an end to domestic violence.

"Ninety-two per cent of women experience domestic violence," she said. "First there is no education, you cannot pick your husband, no right over reproduction, there's no dowry, no inheritance, no identity.

"A woman is first the property of her dad, then becomes the property of her husband."

Ms Karokhail said it was common for girls to be exchanged for milk and cows, or even trained dogs.

Despite receiving death threats, she was able to get the law passed in 2009. But little has changed.

"The problem is, how do we get women to know about it?" Ms Karokhail said. "Women cannot leave home, let alone go and report such crimes."

The problem, she said, was that men were able to make the rules.

"They would use Islam against women's freedom, and they are ignorant of the Arabic language [of the Quran], so misinterpretation continues," she said.

Ms Karokhail said that Afghan families often kept their girls uneducated as a point of pride, telling people "the sun and the moon haven't seen my daughter's face".

She said she had to "sneak off" to get an education. But that made her more determined to improve women's lives, particularly in villages where the situation is worse.

"Anyway, I am happy I won," Ms Karokhail said, in tears. "In my country, your husband can do so much against you. Society labels you as a non-Muslim women if you go against them.

"I just wanted to share a piece of the story of my country. I hope to still have the support of the international community. Never leave us alone."

Ms Karokhail said events such as International Women's Day made a big contribution to improving the situation of women in the region.

Capt Dana Al Marzouqi, the head of advisory affairs at Abu Dhabi Police, painted a contrasting picture of women's life in the UAE.

"Today we see women playing a greater role in the private and public sector, and they have been doing so since the formation of the state," Capt Al Marzouqi told the forum.

"This is something to be celebrated, the potential, the possibility and the empowerment."

osalem@thenational.ae