Afghanistan’s Law Allowing Marital Rape
As you may have heard, the Afghanistan legislature passed a law last week that requires married women to have sex with her husband up to four times per week unless she is ill or unless sex would aggravate an illness! At European and American objections, President Karzai promised to review the law (which the United Nations is calling a legalization of marital rape) has promised a thorough review of the law, but so far “doesn’t find anything objectional.” The law is causing problems for the U.S. and NATO as we send both more civilians to help nation-build and more troops to hunt al Qaeda, protext civilians, and train Afghan military and police–an escalation I object to and predict will backfire. (By the way, anyone notice that the supposedly successful Iraqi “surge” is coming undone?)
When asked, Pres. Obama called the law “abhorrent” and I agree. I think we should pressure Afghanistan to reverse this horrid law. But before we in the West start to act superior and call this an illustration of how backward Afghanistan is or how patriarchal and sexist Islam is, etc., let’s use this nasty legislation as a time for a good hard look in the mirror. In MANY Western countries “marital rape” is still unknown AS A LEGAL CONCEPT. And before we act shocked at this Afghan law, let us remember in how many cultural contexts it would be assumed that wives give up all right to say no to their husband’s sexual advances. How many of your own relatives, especially of a certain age, would speak of constant sexual availability as among a wife’s “marital duties?”
Here in Kentucky, we passed a law outlawing marital rape for the first time in the late 1990s. Speaking with attorney friends, I can tell you that the law has proved unenforceable. A wife appealing to it sometimes incurs domestic abuse–the opposite of the law’s intention. And getting a KY jury to convict a husband of raping his wife has so far proven impossible. It’s been tried 12 times since the law was signed. Zero convictions. And many other U.S. states (including many which have far more liberal reputations than my adopted home here in KY) do not yet even acknowledge marital rape as a legal concept. And conservative Christians are among those who most often respond to polls by denying that wives can morally refuse their husbands.
Sure, legalizing the inability of wives to say no, as the Afghan law does, is even more horrible. But maybe we better start by acknowledging just how patriarchal and sexist our own religion and culture is, how far from sexual equality are the heterosexual marriages in OUR cultures, before we act as if the Afghanis (or their Islamic heritage) is uniquely anti-woman. Protest this law? Yes. Stand up for women everywhere and against the kind of cultural relativism that would sweep this under the rug? Definitely. But not out of false feelings of moral superiority–only with humility and a renewed determination to stand up for women, including married women, in our own lands and cultures and faiths, too. Anything less is just hypocrisy.
UPDATE: Good News: Karzai has scrapped the law, for now. Bad News: The law’s failure will probably be a recruiting tool for the Taliban. Sigh.
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