Back to the bad old days: Karzai beats retreat on women's rights

President gives support to religious edict that reads: 'Men are fundamental, women are secondary'

Kabul

President Hamid Karzai has backed guidelines issued by Afghanistan's religious council that relegate women to the position of second-class citizens, raising questions about whether British soldiers should continue to put their lives at risk for a government that seems prepared to sell out on the issue in order to engage the Taliban in a peace deal.

The Afghan leader endorsed the repressive guidelines on Tuesday, the same day that six British soldiers were killed in an explosion in Helmand province. "Men are fundamental and women are secondary," the 150-member Ulema Council said in a statement that was subsequently posted on Mr Karzai's own website. It also said that men and women should not mix in work or education, and that women must have a male guardian when they travel.

Mr Karzai's endorsement, which came on the eve of International Women's Day today, is seen by critics as a huge step back in the effort to promote women's rights after the Taliban was displaced by the US invasion of the country in 2001.

Under the Taliban, girls were banned from going to school and women were not allowed to leave their homes without a male relative as an escort.

Activists add that the new clerics' code of conduct is unconstitutional and that President Karzai's endorsement sets a worrying precedent for negotiations with the Taliban.

A spokesman for the British embassy in Kabul said: "We support women's rights in Afghanistan. We have made clear that any political settlement should be inclusive and address the concerns of all Afghan citizens. Our strategy remains to work with those in Afghan society who are advocating reform, in order to build support for full application of the Afghan Constitution, which upholds equal rights for both men and women."

The clerical guidelines are not legally binding and are described as "voluntary" for women who are devout. But if the rules became the norm, they would prevent male and female volunteers at organisations such as Young Women for Change (YWC) working together to empower women across Afghanistan.

YWC was set up last April by two young Afghan women, Noorjahan Akbar and Anita Haidary, but quite early on the founders realised they would be able to be much more effective if they got men involved.

The collaborative approach was one of the reasons Tayeb Khan, 22, decided to become a volunteer five months ago, an unusual move for a young Pashtun man in Afghanistan. "When I saw the organisational structure, men and women working together in a friendly environment, I wanted to come and be part of it," he said.

To mark International Women's Day, YWC is opening a female-only internet café in Kabul that will be dedicated to Sahar Gul, the teenage girl who was tortured and kept for months in her husband's dank cellar after refusing to enter into prostitution.

Many internet cafés in Afghanistan are full of men browsing internet porn and are off-putting to women.

Zafar Salehi, a 24-year-old YWC volunteer, struck a decidedly different note to the one implied by the guidelines backed by President Karzai. He said: "Now women can get connected with the world without harassment."

Another YWC volunteer, Mohammad Jawad, told The Independent: "Unless you let the other 50 per cent of society participate in society you will never progress and never develop."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West, performing in New York last week, has been the subject of controversy as rock's traditional headline slot at Glastonbury is lost once again
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Life and Style
Drinking - often heavily - is a running theme throughout HBO's Game of Thrones adaptation
food + drink
News
people
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living