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A group of Afghan women who braved an enraged mob yesterday to protest against an “abhorrent” new Afghan law had to be rescued by police from a hail of stones and abuse.
The protest by about 200 women, unprecedented in recent Afghanistan history, was directed at the Shia Family Law passed last month by the Afghan parliament which appears to legalise marital rape and child marriage.
The rally, staged by mostly young women with their faces exposed, was a highly inflammatory act of defiance in a country as conservative as Afghanistan. It provoked a furious reaction from local men and a rapidly expanding mob threatened to swamp the demonstrators as they tried to approach the Afghan parliament.
The legislation restricts a woman's right to leave her home and demands she submit to her husband's sexual desires. Sima Ghani, one of the women's organisers, said: "This law is against Islam and it's against women. It's against the people of Afghanistan."
Most of those protesting against the law were young Shia women who took to the streets despite the threat of violence. Earlier this week, one of Afghanistan's leading women's rights activists was murdered at her home.
Politicians on both sides claim President Karzai signed the law to win support from hardline Shia clerics, but he has since ordered a Supreme Court review following widespread international protests led by US President Barack Obama. Mr Obama called the law "abhorrent". Some Nato countries have threatened to withdraw troops unless the law is repealed.
The law regulates the personal affairs of the minority Shia community. It stipulates that a man can expect to have sex with his wife at least once every four nights, it negates the need for sexual consent within marriage, and it gives husbands the right to demand their wives wear make-up.
Sabrina Saqeb, an MP and one of the protest's organisers, said the demonstration was evidence of a groundswell of support for women's rights.
"Afghan women have raised their voices and they proved this isn't what the international community is imposing on Afghanistan, these are the demands of Afghan women," she said.
"People threw stone at us, some people were hit with sticks, and they called us bad names, but what can you expect? These people are the same as the Taliban. There's no difference."