Posted by: Editor | May 1, 2009

Why Family Law Must be Changed

By Zareen Taj

The writer is a women rights/human rights activist, based in the United States. She has B.S in Political Science and Women Studies, and M.S in Women’s Studies.

I am writing this letter to denounce parts of the Family Shia Status Law that was recently signed by President Karzai and is currently under review by the Ministry of Justice in Afghanistan. Parts of this law would adversely affect Hazara women. I am a Hazara and a Shia woman. I fall into all three categories that would be affected. I draw my authority to speak from that fact and as my position as an insider of the Hazara Shia community. Reading the facts and consequences of this law has enraged me over about what is going on in Afghanistan and how the conservatives and extremists have found another way to oppress Hazara women. The west has only focused on the “marital rape” issue, not all the facts and consequences of this law.

This law has 250 restrictions on women. I have been in contact with Hazara women leaders and activists who have denounced this law. So my voice is the voice of all Hazara women in Afghanistan. This law violates the constitution of Afghanistan, which says women have equal rights and can be president. However, if a woman is not allowed to go out from her house, how possibly can she become president? How can she go to court when her rights are violated at home or she is being abused by her husband?

Family Shia Status Law

A part of the current Family Shia Status Law’s stated intention was to regulate marriage, divorce, and inheritance issues for Afghanistan’s Shia population. It should be noted that the country’s Shia population represents approximately twenty five percent of the total population. Of that twenty percent, ninety-five percent are the Hazara ethnic group. Sections of this law adversely affect the movement, rights, welfare and freedom of Hazara women. The most restrictive sections of the law legislates the most intimate and personal family matters: in one section women are forbidden to leave the house without the husband’s permission, he decides what are urgent or legitimate reasons; in another section women must wear makeup when asked by their husbands; in yet another section women are required to have sexual relations whenever the husband wants. There are many more unacceptable and controversial sections, all which conspire to keep the women prisoners in their homes and make them prisoners and slaves of the men. Sections of this law are contrary to the Constitution of Afghanistan. Sections of this law erase the many gains that women have made these several years and the many rights that are enshrined in the constitution. Sections of this law tighten the yoke of oppression around the neck of Hazara women.

The main proponent behind this law is Sheikh Asef Mohseni. He has a dark past history of human rights violations. Mohseni pushed this law to please extremists and to move his political agenda forward. One of the results of this law will be an increasing hostility towards the Hazara community in general and Hazara women in particular.

Background on the Hazara in Afghanistan

The Hazara is a minority ethnic group in Afghanistan, which makes up the third largest ethnic group in present-day Afghanistan. Throughout their history, they have been the most persecuted, marginalized and oppressed ethnic group. There have been many wars and military campaigns to exterminate the Hazaras. Some of these wars and campaigns are: Abdul Rahman’s extermination campaigns in the 1880s and 1890s, which wiped out sixty-two percent of the Hazara population; the Afshar massacre in 1993 (over 1,000 killed); the Mazar-e Sharif massacre in 1998 (over 8,000 killed); Bamian massacres in 1998-99 and 2001; the Yakaolang massacres in 1 999 and 2000. The Taliban have targeted Hazaras for extinction because they considered them to be infidels.  Their Mongol characteristics have made them distinct from the other ethnic groups and have caused them to be singled out for persecution. The Hazaras have been fighting for their very existence, rights, and identity for centuries. The history of Hazara has always been a history of suffering, a history of oppression and a history of struggle for existence and survival. This law continues that oppression.

Hazaras place the strongest value on education. Hazara people believe their survival is based on obtaining an education and freedom for women.  Because of this value Hazara women have much freedom in their community to get an education, employment and to move freely without restriction from their homes and community in general. This law restricts their mobility and freedom.

Hazara Women Leaders

Within the Hazara community, the freedom, mobility and lack of restrictions have allowed women to participate in all walks of life. As a result, we have too many Hazara women leaders and activists. For instance, the first head of the Women’s Ministry was a Hazara woman; the first head of the Human Rights Commission is a Hazara woman; the first Governor of a province in Afghanistan is a Hazara woman; the first female Mayor in the country is a Hazara woman. They have never received threats from Hazara men because of their position. In 2004, I went to Afghanistan for research and to make a documentary. As a Hazara woman I was welcomed by the Hazara people in Hazarajat.  For over two months I never felt threatened. Nobody objected to my research or my crews with cameras. This law will prevent these accomplishments in the future.

Who supports this law?

The supporters of this law come from many interest groups. First, there are those who feel this law represents a form of Shia pride. Now mostly the illiterate and elders of Shia feel this law creates a Shia identity and provides recognition of their Shia religion in Afghanistan, which gives them pride and identity. They support this law because it is a Shia law, without knowing the entire law or the consequences of this law. Second, there are those who feel the law reinforces the classic patriarchal boundaries on women that have been eroding with their new found freedoms. Third, there are those who wish to advance their political agendas under the guise of “Shia Family law”. To challenge a religious law brings immediate condemnation and accusations of blasphemy and infidel. Fourth, there are those who feel that this law will silence any modern, progressive thinking and advancement. People are afraid and intimidated to speak out publicly for fear of all kinds of retribution. This law will silence those individuals.

This specific support by these kinds of people and groups should be viewed as a red flag and a serious warning signal of the rapidly advancing attacks on women’s freedoms. These warning signs represent a backward sliding into previous darkness and a silencing and censorship of those who would speak out in Afghanistan.

Why Karzai signed this law?

I believe that when President Karzai signed this law, he has shown that he is taking this country in the wrong direction and does not support equality and freedom for women. When President Karzai signed this law, he did so in contradiction to Article 22 of the Afghan Constitution. When he signed this law he did so in contradiction to the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, to which Afghanistan is a state party. My question is “was President Karzai aware of the law’s contents and consequences? He admitted that he signed this law without reading it. This shows how irresponsible he is toward our country and demonstrates that he just wanted to please the conservative mullahs to get their political support in the upcoming election.

Consequences of the law

The consequences of the law are many. First, it is a step backward for all women in Afghanistan. It is a double step back for Hazara women because they enjoy more freedom than most. Second, it is a threat to women’ s freedom and mobility. Third, it affects all Hazara women who are head of households. Fourth, it negatively affects all women’s rights in divorce, child custody, marriage, and inheritance situations. Fifth, it allows a creeping “Talibanization” of society under the guise of “Shi’a family law. Sixth, it creates a triple oppression for Hazara women (gender, ethnic and religious discrimination). Seventh, it gives more freedom to extremists to oppress women without any restriction.


Finally, this law should be changed because of what it represents at its very core. It devalues women as human beings, patronizes them as if they were children, and continues a sanctioned system of male dominance. It is morally wrong, a stain on the ground of Afghanistan and has caused both outrage and embarrassment for us.

I speak for all Hazara women as I say emphatically and without reservation, we too want the international community to hear our cries, recognize our struggles, and fight to deliver us from the effects of this oppressive law and what it represents. Hazara women want to have the freedom to utilize their talents. We cannot do that with the restrictions of this law. The world should hear our voices as we demand that the government of Afghanistan change this law. HAZARA WOMEN WANT TO MAKE IT EXTREMELY CLEAR, THAT THE PEOPLE WHO DRAFTED THIS LAW DO NOT AND NEVER WILL REPRESENT OUR COMMUNITY AND VALUES!



  1. It is a good article by Ms. Zareen.

    Just to point out, contrary to your claim you personally do not fall into any of these three categories because you live in the United States and you are a citizen there and the law does not apply there.

    Thank You

  2. Good on you ”Sisters”

    Keep it up, never give up,

    Never let this Cave man take you rights and our sisters freedom, with there slave believes.

    Gobi on there had, Brown superman shall on there back, they think that they can teach and show us how to live life in 21 centenary.
    they still believe in stories and nowal written by some Arabs BC AC ago, they know there days are gone no more charb shorwa and sahib sahib,
    these gobi Had or R are there to make differance between Humans some with nech, achot, muslim christ, jew ETC, In there laws womens are not equal as man, ”Bull shit” they never think to be Human first.
    Womens are most respectful member of all societies, they have equal rights, they do more than man in there life, we are not allow to put stupid laws on them, we can not force women for any aspect of life.
    ”What karzi did is the sign of 1880 on our womens,”
    we cannot accept this once again curel act against our ”Nation” against ”Hazaras”

    I am proud of you sisters, brothers, to stop this act and change this Law, and let go this Cave believe,

    God bless you all,

  3. Hazrat Ali (a.s)’s sermon given after battle of Jamal. Can be viewed on

    “O’ ye peoples! Women are deficient in Faith, deficient in shares and deficient in intelligence. As regards the deficiency in their Faith, it is their abstention from prayers and fasting during their menstrual period. As regards deficiency in their intelligence it is because the evidence of two women is equal to that of one man. As for the deficiency of their shares that is because of their share in inheritance being half of men. So beware of the evils of women. Be on your guard even from those of them who are (reportedly) good. Do not obey them even in good things so that they may not attract you to evils. ”

    My point is that this is part of Shia religion and it cannot be ignored. Women can play a constructive role in the circumstances that are provided for them

    P.S-The author forgot to mention hazara women olympians.

    • Nahajulbalagha ethar mouga …………omar wa specially Mullah Omar chi gouftha bashad dega …………..
      Eini ham az Islam e shia shi …………
      i think all the women should turn to some where else ……
      az they have no value of their own ……..
      than materialistic wealth and most of the time as things to men ……..

  4. Thank you for your article.

    No matter what the outcome of the present fighting, it is obvious that the people who stand to lose the most are the Shia people and the women.

    We in the USA, who barely know why we are even fighting in Afghanistan…why, we could care less what happens, as long as we get whatever it is our leaders say we want.

  5. Strongly I recommend to all my friends next time please don’t write we are in minority in Afghanistan, if we claim that we are third largest ethnic group in present-day. If we write minority it means we descriminate our selves. So then how we can admit that others are descriminating us.

    Ali Raza Mughal
    SAP-PK Quetta Pakistan

  6. salam ba kuli qawama.
    first of all an educated person can not accept these kind of laws. i have to tell u that Marefat and sema (mother of the nation) stood against it not only because of the law but because the fucking moseni qandhari,balkhi,qum mallah factory trained or using Hazara’s and u know most of hazara’s are uneducated if u tell them shia they become unfortunately they dont know what the fucking khomein and his followers and…did to them and are doing. even abulrahman killed 60% of us he used sadat’s ,karbalye’ zawar’s and …
    if u want to be united say that Hundu bashi hazra bashi
    today all our enemies are muslim unfortunately a christian,jew,hindu is not our enemy
    who is our enemy? Iran,Arab and some ethinic groups if Afghanistan which are a better muslim compared to us but they are all vampire of hazara’s blood

    hazara can be shia,suni hazara,ismalia hazara or maybe christian and even we have hindu hazara’s in Inda
    navid ,Dasht-e-barchi kabul

  7. Dear Ms Zareen, better to say dear madam as I had the honor of being your student in English language center in Pakistan. I really impressed gone through your amazing documentary work, your articles and specially this one you wrote about shia status law. wish you alright and happy to see you here after years. looking forward to your further success in the brilliant advocacy job your are doing.

    with best regards,


  8. […] Zareen Taj, an Afghan woman, shared her moving story of living in a Pakistan refugee camp  for years until she was able to receive a college education here in the U.S., thanks to a scholarship from the FMF. She spoke about the empowerment knowledge gave her, and the confidence she has gained. Taj told the audience of other Afghan women, who refuse to go back to the rule of the Taliban: “Afghan women are now awake.” […]

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