Afghanistan to Alaska–Who Respects Women Less?

by Gloria Feldt on April 19th, 2009
in International, Women & Politics and tagged , , , , , ,

The Twitterati loudly retweeted their rightful shock this past week as women around the internet e-mailed one another to organize protests against Afghan president Karzai’s signing a law a that allows fundamentalist Muslims to enforce Sharia, including requirements that women must submit to sex with their husbands at least every four days, thus effectively legalizing marital rape.

Meanwhile, 300 courageous Afghan women exercised their right to protest this barbaric law by staging a public march to their capital. They were met with over 1,000 counter-protesters, some of whom threw stones, spat, and called them whores, which tells you exactly where their stupidly misogynist heads are.

For those who want a way to voice their opposition immediately, here’s an action you can take to persuade President Obama to act on his statement that this law is intolerable. And here’s how to deliver the same message via text to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

But lest we in the U.S. become too self-righteous, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s nomination of far-right attorney and her longtime Hummer (what else?)-driving political ally Wayne Anthony Ross for attorney general is clear evidence that the same misogynistic strains are yet to be rooted out here. Fortunately:

Palin’s hopes for a swift confirmation process were dashed April 10 when Leah Burton, a veteran lobbyist on children’s issues and domestic violence, submitted a letter to the Alaska State Judiciary Committee claiming that Ross publicly defended spousal rape. According to Burton, who detailed the allegations for me, Ross allegedly declared during a speech before a 1991 gathering of the “father’s rights” group Dads Against Discrimination, “If a guy can’t rape his wife, who’s he gonna rape?” (In a subsequent letter, Ross denied the remark and claimed, “I don’t talk like that!”)

Burton said Ross’s statement was consistent with his overarching attitude toward women’s issues. She claimed that he once said during a debate on the Equal Rights Amendment, “If a woman would keep her mouth shut, there wouldn’t be an issue with domestic violence.” Burton also maintained she has been in touch with “a number” of domestic-violence victims who witnessed Ross make “horrible” statements, but are too intimidated to speak out.

Alex Koppelman notes in Salon that “26 Democrats joined nine Republicans in voting against Ross on Thursday, while 23 lawmakers (it was a joint session of the state House and Senate) voted to confirm him. It was the first time in Alaska history that the legislature has rejected a governor’s appointment for an agency head, according to the New York Times.”

Still, I must wonder what those who defended Palin here at Heartfeldt last fall are thinking about this. What do you think? Was she oblivious, obtuse, indifferent, or in agreement?

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

8 Responses to Afghanistan to Alaska–Who Respects Women Less?

  1. Aletha says:

    Now, Gloria, are you implying you think Governor Palin might agree that women should keep their mouths shut? I am aware that many think she is a first-class hypocrite or worse, but I tend to think of her as rather politically naive. I doubt she was aware that Mr. Ross held such views, or if she was, she probably did not believe it. I think she is blissfully unaware of the true beliefs of many of her allies. Whether that is wishful thinking, obliviousness, naivete, or something else, I can only speculate.

    I also want to clarify, I have been accused many times of defending Gov. Palin, but that was never my intention. I object to unfair or inaccurate smear tactics against any woman, regardless of her opinions. I do not believe spreading lies or distortions against any woman, regardless of how galling her opinions may be, serves feminism in any way, shape, or form.

    Speaking of distortions, I have observed much confusion about what the new law in Afghanistan implies. According to this article from RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) News, Sharia for Shias: ‘Legalised rape‘, which I quoted in my recent blog entry about the law, one section of the law reads:

    Article 132
    (3) The couple should not commit acts that create hatred and bitterness in their relationship, The wife is bound to preen for her husband, as and when he desires.
    (4) The husband, except when travelling or ill, is bound to have intercourse with his wife every night in four nights. The wife is bound to give a positive response to the sexual desires of her husband.

    If that is not clear enough, another section states:

    Article 177
    (4) Obediance, readiness for intercourse and not leaving the house without the permission of the husband are the duties of the wife, violation of every one of them will mean disobediance to the husband.

    Perhaps something got lost in the translation, but to me it sounds like a wife is obligated to submit to sex whenever the husband wants it, whereas it is his obligation to have sex with her at least once every four days. Gee thanks!

    I think Hamid Karzai has shown his true colors, but that should not have been a surprise to anyone keeping up with what has been happening to women in Afghanistan. Yes, that goes for President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton as well. Their responses mean about as much as Karzai promising to review the law.

    The Guardian article, ‘Worse than the Taliban‘ – new law rolls back rights for Afghan women, quotes someone who should know as saying:

    Soraya Sobhrang, the head of women’s affairs at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said western silence had been “disastrous for women’s rights in Afghanistan”.

    “What the international community has done is really shameful. If they had got more involved in the process when it was discussed in parliament we could have stopped it. Because of the election I am not sure we can change it now. It’s too late for that.”

    Have the rights of women once again been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency? Where was all the shock and outrage when it could have made a difference? I did not know such a law was in the works, but it is no surprise to me. RAWA has extensively documented the indifference of Karzai to the depredations of his warlord allies.

    Nobody can tell me that Obama and Clinton did not know this law was in the works. If that was the case, it is almost as bad as knowing and not doing anything until it hit the press.

    • Gloria Feldt says:

      Hello Aletha-
      My question about Palin is truly a question, and it is about why and how as a woman she could have nominated such a man as Mr. Ross to the judiciary. I don’t know her well enough to know the answer, but I’ve asked Elaine Lafferty to weigh in about that. In my most generous moments, I suspect that Palin, as with most people and especially those as disinclined to self-reflection as she is, simply is oblivious to the inherent sexism in Ross’s past comments. So often injustice is so pervasive in the culture that people cannot see it until it is pointed out to them.

      However since we are talking politics and I highlighted the similarities between failing to confront blatant sexism whether in Afghanistan or Alaska, my hunch is also that both Karzai and Palin had people who pointed out the injustices even if they themselves failed to see them, and that in both instances the raw political calculation was made that their respective far right constituencies held the power. They thought there would be no punishment if they disregarded women, so they could get by with allowing marital rape in one case, or at least condoning statements about it in the other. And not until there were public protests did these political leaders realize they might as well do the right thing because they were going to be castigated anyway and probably punished even more (in the political sense) if they stuck with their original actions.

      The positive news in this is that those who held the moral power were willing to use their power to affect the policies.

      Thank you, Aletha, for checking out and sharing the Afghan law in question. I stand corrected on my facts, which though compelling enough as stated in the US and British media, are obviously even much harsher than I and those sources represented them. The underlying concern I was attempting to get at in my post is the historical, culturally ingrained, utter disregard for women as moral agents with the human rights to their own lives, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

      • Aletha says:

        Palin is hard to figure sometimes. It seems she was embarrassed by some of the revelations about Mr. Ross. The Alternet article quotes her saying

        Obviously I am not anti-Native and would never appoint anyone who is.

        This goes to my point about her being unaware of the true beliefs of her allies. She could simply be lying, but I suspect she gives her allies too much benefit of the doubt, as though she wants to believe the best about her allies and the worst about her enemies. Her allies are quite willing and able to manipulate her through that naivete.

        Karzai is a different sort of piece of work. Last week he told CNN he had not read the objectionable sections of the law! He also says the law will be changed.

        Now I have instructed, in consultation with clergy of the country, that the law be revised and any article that is not in keeping with the Afghan constitution and Islamic Sharia must be removed from this law.

        The Feminist Majority Foundation took that as vindication of the protests it had helped organize, though from what I can tell, Karzai said much the same in his earlier promise to review the law. The only way I can see to reconcile Sharia law with the equal rights provision in the Afghan constitution is the usual fundamentalist argument that women are treated as equals under the religious laws, but what that means is a far cry from what a Western feminist would think it means. In other words, I doubt Karzai or the Shia clergy who drafted this law think it contravenes the constitution. Initially Karzai was claiming the law was being misinterpreted. It was not so long ago that men nearly universally believed men had one role, while women had a complementary role, both should be respected as such, so men and women should both be satisfied with those respective roles. Here we are in 2009 still having to fight men in power like Ross and Karzai who think there should be no problem confining women to traditional roles.

  2. portia9 says:

    “Sarah Palin Suffers Massive Political Fallout from Her Latest Nutcase Nominee”

    That is the ridiclously hyperbolic headline of the Alternet article you referenced as the source of your information. The article itself is a not even remotely credible smear. It’s insulting to Alaskans to insinuate that women there experience anything close to what women face in Afghanistan in terms of violations of human rights. Since you asked whether Palin’s defenders see her as “oblivious, obtuse, indifferent, or in agreement” the answer is none of the above. I see her as a savvy politician who battles an enormous amount of resentment and hatred simply by virtue of her sex and the (R) behind her name. The Demcrats in Alaska are obviously playing a vicious game of gotcha politics. Palin, for her part, is operating as any other politician would, namely, she is trying to install those loyal to her in prominent positions. What she lacks is the ability our POTUS has to subvert the process and appoint sexist a**holes like Larry Summers to psuedo cabinet positions.

    • Gloria Feldt says:

      Portia9, the article was originally published in The Daily Beast as “Palin’s New Disaster”, and it looks pretty well documented to me.

      I increasingly believe you are right about her motivation. But what you deem “savvy”, looks calculating and amoral to me.

  3. Elaine Lafferty says:

    Hi Gloria
    Always great to read your blog, and I’ll comment at your invitation to do so…but frankly I would not have otherwise because I think this thing is overblown, as is EVERYTHING that has to do with Sarah Palin. (Think of the various state appoirntments that have gone off the tracks from 49 other governors…but we really don’t follow this stuff, do we?)) Short version; I think she was appalled and horrified to hear he had made these comments and I think she will abandon this nomination awfully fast. Some of the various “ethics” complaints that have been filed against her, mostly by disgruntled Republicans in Alaska, have been pretty silly and time-consuming. I think like most politicians she was trying to pick a loyalist known for a streak of independance as well as a “take no prisoners” attitude. Wrong guy.Portia( has got it right. To be honest, we – actually the women of Afghanistan – have a far bigger problem in Hamid Karzai, and that has been the case from the day he took office. If we had followed the internal politics, the to and fro, of Kabul mid level appointments as closely as we are following Alaska, we would not have been suprised at Karzai’s latest. And its consequences for women’s lives – as in life and death – are far more serious than a misguided and soon to be withdrawn nomination of some yahoo in Alaska.

    • Gloria Feldt says:

      Thanks for your insights, Elaine. Without question, Karzai is showing his true colors, no surprise there. I would have liked to see our government speak up sooner and more vociferously. The main point of my post was to encourage people to keep the pressure on the U.S. government.

      Still, I can’t say that I am particularly heartened by the prospect that Palin isn’t sufficiently well-versed or attuned to the issues to have flagged Ross’s liabilities and deep-sixed his nomination herself. I’m afraid whether she was clueless or clued in, it doesn’t look very good for her as a human being, though as you and Portia point out it does make her a coldly, if skillfully, calculating politician.

  4. P.O.S. says:

    “My question about Palin is truly a question, …” No it’s not. You are a vicious partisan hack, liar and misogynist. I am sure you will delete this comment as you did hundreds if not thousands of others you got as a result of you disastrous apperence with Laura Ingraham but be that as it may, at least you will see this and know that we are on to you. Maybe you should write a post attacking and mocking a teenage unwed mother next…Say what? Bristol Palin?What a monster you truly are…

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