By Sania Faizi, Staff Writer
The first female nominee to the Supreme Court in Afghanistan was unable to win enough votes in parliament to grant her a seat in the country’s highest court. A huge hit to the women’s rights landscape in Afghanistan, this development is symptomatic of the wider patriarchal culture that prevents women from exercising their rights as equals to men.
Anissa Rasouli, a long standing judge and currently head of Kabul’s juvenile court, faced resistance from members within the parliament who, due to her gender, deemed her to be an unacceptable candidate for the post. The argument of her adversaries was that as judges are expected to place their hands on the Quran during each hearing and women are not allowed to do so while on their period, it would be inappropriate to have them on the Supreme Court panel.
The incident is an example of when religious dicta is used to hold women back and exclude them from positions of authority and responsibility. In order to bring about substantial improvements to the position of women in Afghani society, women must be allowed into powers of position and must be granted better representation in all public spheres, including the legal and political. However, a lack of effectiveness of the formal legal system in Afghanistan has led to the law being practiced and applied in informal councils. This fragmented informal set up does not have the relevant mechanisms in place to educate women of their rights and then to safeguard these rights. Instead, it is dwarfed by a culture of impunity of male perpetrators where the victims have been female.
The incumbent President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, who took office with big claims regarding women’s rights and the incorporation of women into Afghanistan’s public life, is yet to deliver on his promises. The country has seen various protests in recent months, from demanding the appointment of more female ministers in the presidential cabinet to demanding justice for Farkhunda, the young woman who was lynched by a mob after being wrongly accused of burning the Quran. The president should harness the current climate into momentum for change and nominate another female candidate in place of Rasouli. Not only would this prove that Ashraf Ghani has the political will for supporting women’s rights but it might also encourage other powerful men to create space for women to progress and develop.