Women’s Rights in Afghanistan: Strategic Dilemmas

This guest post is part of our MESA blog series published in conjunction with the meeting of the Middle East Studies Association in Washington, D.C., Nov. 18-21. #MESA2017DC


By Torunn Wimpelmann, author of The Pitfalls of Protection: Gender, Violence, and Power in Afghanistan

A few days ago, on the 11th of November 2017, Afghan Second Vice President Sarwar Danesh proudly presented his country’s new penal code. To most legal scholars, justice officials and aid workers it was a moment of satisfaction. Afghanistan’s last penal code was issued in 1976 and outdated. Moreover, since 2001, when the country became awash with expatriate advisors, a large number of standalone codes with criminal provisions had been promulgated, mostly by presidential decree. Regulating issues such as anti-narcotics, money laundering and terrorism, these new codes had been produced in isolation from the overall legal framework, but all (un)conveniently contained a clause stating that it abrogated any other law in contradiction to it, ( and on many occasions there were indeed contradictions, sometimes multiple). Judges was required to refer to ever-increasing number of laws containing criminal provisions, (some fifty according to one estimation) and so the idea of creating a new comprehensive penal code appeared a sensible one.

But one law has not been incorporated into the new code. The Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women ( EVAW Law) will continue to exist as a stand alone piece of legislation, due to some considerations, as the Vice President said. He did not elaborate further but in my book The Pitfalls of Protection, Gender Violence and Power in Afghanistan, the EVAW law features centrally, as it has done in the gender politics of Afghanistan over the last decade and a half. To follow the trajectory of the law, how it was conceived, promoted, contested, and (partly) implemented is to travel alongside some of the major political, religious, sexual and ideological faultlines of the order erected upon the US-led invasion in 2001.

The law, criminalizing 22 acts as violence against women was conceived in 2005. After a series of strategic and substantial battles within the country’s women’s movement, it was enacted as a presidential decree four years later. The EVAW law failed however to be ratified in parliament where conservative MPs denounced it as an anti-Islamic, foreign product and objected in particular to the law’s criminalization of underage and forced marriage, as well as certain forms of wife beating and polygamy. As such, the law had an unclear legal standing, but was nonetheless celebrated as an historical achievement by many in Afghanistan, both Afghan women’s activists and their allies in Western embassies who had been important in securing the law’s enactment. For years now, despite its ambiguous status as a decree, the law has been the focus of a massive implementation apparatus underwritten by development aid.

But not without some controversy. The conservative parliament aside, legal scholars argued that the law had technical flaws and unclear terminology, and that women’s protection would be better served by merging its provisions into the upcoming comprehensive penal code, which would anyway be the main reference point for judges henceforth. Yet, supporters of the law refused, arguing that to dispossess Afghan women of the law especially dedicated to them would be a reactionary move and a setback for women’s protection. The position reflected the particularities under which women’s rights advocates had been working in post-2001 Afghanistan. Both enabled and disabled by the international presence, which had offered them unprecedented political leverage yet also strengthened both Islamist actors and resentment to foreign influence more generally, many women activists seized on opportunities to get (sometimes discretely) progressive frameworks and institutions in place with the help of external allies and untainted by compromises with more conservative national actors. Whether this strategy will stand the test of time remains to be seen. One indicator will be whether the EVAW law will be applied alongside the new penal code, or fade into irrelevance as a mainly symbolic item and a product of a particular era.


Torunn Wimpelmann is a researcher at Chr. Michelsen Institute.

The Pitfalls of Protection is published in University of California Press’s Luminos open access book program. Click here to download a free digital copy.

Sign up for the Luminos eNewsletter to learn more about future Luminos publications and other Luminos news.


Repeal and Replace is a Women’s Issue

By Susan Starr Sered, co-author of Uninsured in America and Can’t Catch a Break

In recognition of Women’s History Month, this post is republished with permission from the author. #RepealAndReplace #WomensHistoryMonth

The Republican plan to eliminate or change substantial portions of the Affordable Care Act is likely to have a disproportionately deleterious impact on women. This is why.

Women compared to men use more medical services and spend more on health care. Thus, any reduction in government support for health care will affect women more than men.

Women make more visits each year to primary care physicians than do men and are more likely than men to take at least one prescription drug on a daily basis.  According to the Health Care Cost Institute, “In 2015, spending was $5,684 per woman and $4,581 per man. …  From 2012 to 2015, the difference in spending between genders rose from $1,071 per capita to $1,103 per capita.  Per capita spending for women was higher than for men on every type of service, except brand prescriptions.”

Given women’s higher healthcare needs, the ACA protected women by requiring all plans to meet a minimum level of coverage that includes a basic basket of necessary services. The Trump administration has announced that they will reduce the price of premiums so that Americans can have more “choice” to select less expensive insurance.  Less expensive insurance typically covers less, which disproportionately hurts people who have need of more medical services. Lower premiums also may come with higher annual deductibles, meaning that people need to spend a large sum of money out-of-pocket before insurance will pay. Again, this places a particularly heavy burden on people who need more healthcare services.

In particular, women are more likely than men to suffer mental health challenges and women make substantially greater use of mental health services. Beginning in 2020, the GOP plan would eliminate the current requirement that Medicaid cover basic mental-health and addiction services. This roll back of mental health parity requirements will disproportionately hurt women.

Women are less able than men to afford health care.

According to the Department of Labor, women earn less than men. In 2014, for example, women who worked full time in wage and salary jobs had median usual weekly earnings of $719, which was 83 percent of men’s median weekly earnings ($871).

The Republican plan emphasizes tax credits and health savings accounts, both of which are irrelevant to low-income Americans.

According to the Department of Labor, women are more likely than men to be among the working poor. This is the group that has the most to lose with the Republican plan to decrease subsidies and eventually eliminate the Medicaid expansion.

The Republican approach to Medicaid disproportionately impacts women.

Nationally, women make up 56% of Medicaid recipients (in 2015). In states that did not expand Medicaid under the ACA, women are an even greater proportion of Medicaid recipients. In South Carolina, for example, 67% of Medicaid recipients are women. In Nebraska 66% are women. Thus, phasing out the Medicaid expansion will disproportionally hurt women.

The ethos of suspicion directed at Medicaid recipients will further hurt women. For example, the Republican plan requires states to re-determine Medicaid eligibilities “no less frequently than every six months.” Given that women bear the greater share of responsibility for arranging health care in American households, the need to frequently recertify eligibility will place an increased time burden on women to keep track and show evidence of eligibility.

Near elderly women are at particular risk of losing coverage under the Republican plan.

Women are less likely than men to be insured through their own job (35% vs. 44% respectively) and more likely to be covered as a dependent (24% vs. 16%), a disparity that reflects the fact that women are more likely than men to work at part-time jobs in order to carry out duties as primary caregivers for children, sick and disabled family members, and elderly parents.

At the same time, many American women are married to men who are slightly or significantly older than they. This means that when the husband retires and becomes eligible for Medicare, the wife loses the “dependent” coverage she had while her husband was employed, but she herself will not yet be Medicare eligible.

This age group has particularly high healthcare needs that may become exacerbated while waiting for Medicare eligibility.

Under the A.C.A., plans can charge their oldest customers only three times the prices charged to the youngest ones. The Republican plan allows insurers to charge older customers five times as much as younger ones and gives states the option to set their own ratio.

Planned Parenthood

The Republican plan singles out Planned Parenthood, prohibiting federal funding for Planned Parenthood for one year beginning with the enactment of the law. This will have a disproportionately negative impact on women.

Two and a half million women and men in the United States annually visit Planned Parenthood affiliate health centers for a variety of healthcare services. Most of these people are women who would stand to lose a wide range of primary healthcare services including, but not limited to, contraception.

Abortion

Under the Republican plan, qualified health plans cannot include abortion coverage except for pregnancies that present life-threatening physical risks (not mental health risks) and pregnancies that resulted from rape or incest.

This provision not only reduces access to a needed medical procedure, but it also seems to require some sort of process for determining whether a pregnancy is life-threatening or confirming that a pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. This potentially could force women to prove (to the satisfaction of an insurance company) that she indeed was raped, and it certainly would delay performing the abortion – a delay that in and of itself presents health risks to women.

The Republican plan does allow insurance to pay to treat “any infection, injury, disease or disorder that has been caused or exacerbated by the performance of an abortion.” Since legal abortions performed by a qualified medical provider in a suitable medical setting are extremely safe, this provision seems to be set up for women who have resorted to “backstreet” abortions. While it is unlikely that the plan’s intent is to encourage illicit abortions, this provision seems to acknowledge that an increase in unsafe abortions may be a consequence of the plan.

This analysis was prepared by Susan Sered on March 8, 2017. Healthcare legislation currently is highly volatile with many changes proposed. Stay tuned – I will come back and update this analysis as more information becomes available.


Susan Starr Sered is Professor of Sociology and Senior Researcher at the Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights at Suffolk University in Boston. She is the author of Uninsured in America: Life and Death in the Land of Opportunity and Can’t Catch a Break: Gender, Jail, Drugs, and the Limits of Personal Responsibility. Read more on Susan’s blog at http://susan.sered.name/blog/.


A Clear Path for Women’s Rights as Human Rights

Women's March SFThis past Saturday, across the globe, people of all walks of life marched peacefully to show their solidarity with their partners, children and community for the protection of women’s rights, safety, health, and families. With such momentum after an historical event, many want to ensure that the spirit of the march does not end and that there is a “path from protest to power.” And ideas of what to do now are surfacing, ensuring that those who believe in respect and dignity for all have a clear path of action to continue the cause and ensure a productive end.

We at the UC Press believe the work of addressing society’s core challenges–including persistent inequality–can be accelerated when scholarship assumes its role as an agent of engagement and democracy.

Below are just some of the many titles that attempt to address women’s rights as human rights.

ross-solinger.reproductivejusticeReproductive Rights: An Introduction by Loretta Ross and Rickie Solinger

“Controlling reproduction and the bodies of women seems to be the first step in every hierarchy. That’s why reproductive justice—women having power over our own bodies—is the crucial first step toward any democracy and any justice.” —Gloria Steinem

Read what others are saying about Reproductive Rights.

 

 

dworkin-womensempowermentandglobalhealth

Women’s Empowerment and Global Health: A Twenty-First-Century Agenda edited by Shari Dworkin, Monica Gandhi, Paige Passano

Research was completed with the support of University of California Global Health Institute’s (UCGHI)Center of Expertise (COE) on Women’s Health, Gender, and Empowerment.

Women’s Empowerment and Global Health makes a major contribution toward not only the analysis but also the achievement of global health.”—Kim M. Blankenship, Chair of the Sociology Department and Director of the Center on Health, Risk and Society, American University

 

Owen.InSearchOfSafety

In Search of Safety: Confronting Inequality in Women’s Imprisonment by Barbara Owen, James Wells, Joycelyn Pollock

“This book shows the profound neglect and violence women face in the criminal justice system, and the unique ways in which gender compounds the punishment of confinement. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to see justice-involved women regain their human and civil rights in the United States and beyond.”—Piper Kerman, author of Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison

 

 

pomerantz-smartgirlsSmart Girls: Success, School, and the Myth of Post-Feminism by Shauna Pomerantz, Rebecca Raby

Smart Girls is unexplored territory. Pomerantz and Raby have conducted a superbly balanced mix of interviews and analysis for a post-feminist and neoliberal age to help us understand why the stereotype of the ‘smart girl’ holds such sway in our culture and how to put girls back on the political and social agenda.”—Leslie C. Bell, author of Hard to Get: Twenty-Something Women and the Paradox of Sexual Freedom

Read what others are saying about Smart Girls. 

 

 

What do you think the largest challenge will be regarding women’s rights as human rights? And how do you anticipate addressing those challenges in your own community?