A new law in Afghanistan means men can attack their wives and daughters with impunity

The problem isn't just in Afghanistan. 30 per cent of woman suffer violence from an intimate partner, but globally laws do little to protect women at home.

According to the World Health Organisation, 35 per cent of women worldwide will experience sexual or physical violence in their lifetime. The vast majority of these incidents are perpetrated by an intimate partner: 30 per cent of women experience violence at the hands of their boyfriend or husband. Globally, 38 per cent of women who are murdered are killed by their partner. 

Many women might be scared to walk down dark alleys late at night, but statistically the most dangerous place for a woman to be is in her own home. It isn’t just our perception of danger that hasn’t quite caught up with this reality, internationally laws are far more likely to protect a woman from rape or attack by a stranger than by their husbands.

In Afghanistan, a new law will mean that men are able to attack their wives, daughters and sisters without fear of punishment. The new code means that family members are not allowed to testify against the accused. It’s a devastating step back for women’s rights in Afghanistan – and yet more evidence that for all the rhetoric that the removal of the Taliban would improve the lives of many women, the modest progress made by Afghan women in the past decade is at risk of reversal. 

According to the UN, 87 per cent of women in the country have suffered sexual, psychological or physical violence. Female MPs have become targets for violence, and not just from militant groups – in July MP Noor Zia Atmar moved into a shelter to escape her abusive husband. Under Afghanistan’s new law, she will not be able to testify against him in court.

But Afghanistan’s attitude towards domestic violence is not unusual. According to UN Women’s 2011 figures, while 125 countries outlaw domestic violence, 127 countries do not criminalise rape within marriage. 603 million women worldwide live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime, while more than 2.6 billion live in countries where marital rape is legal. Even in countries where marital rape is illegal, the barriers to women reporting and then successfully prosecuting their partner are high.

The countries that still don’t count marital rape as a crime include some of the world’s most populous: China, India, Pakistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia all lack laws specifically criminalising marital rape. Despite calls to increase the sentences imposed those found guilty of rape following the gang rape of a student in Delhi, which made international headlines in 2012, Indian lawmakers resisted criminalising marital rape in 2013.

Criminalising domestic violence and marital rape is only one small step towards ensuring that women are safe in their own homes. But robust legislation does send out an important signal, that the all-too-prevalent belief that husbands have a right to discipline their wives, force them into sex, or treat them abusively, is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.

It’s also about a change of perspective. It’s far easier to want to protect women from the unknown other - the stranger in a dark, abandoned street - than to acknowledge that the men most women have greater cause to fear is their husband, father or brother.

Even in war-torn Afghanistan, home is one of the most dangerous places for a woman to be. Photo: Getty.

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.