Asian Values and Women's Rights
Last week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in a move to bolster support in the upcoming presidential elections, signed a law which stipulated that, “Unless the wife is ill, the wife is bound to give a positive response to the sexual desires of her husband.” Human rights groups are calling foul play. To say nothing of the fact that a woman’s rights are being used as a tool of negotiation, the UN is arguing the new law essentially legalizes the rape of women within the marriage contract. While Afghanistan is a party to the CEDW treaty, the motivation for the law was to appeal to hardliners in the face of the hard won victories of women after the fall of the Taliban.
The ability of human rights discourse to protect women in developing countries is one of its greatest criticisms. This critique is lodged in debates over the universal nature of human rights and, in Afghanistan’s present situation, more specifically the Asian values debate. The Asian values debate confronts the proposed exceptionalism of Asian cultures. Peter Baehr explains, “Asian values’ is inseparable from the highly charged, polemical set of assertions of some Asian leaders designed to deflect criticisms of their human rights record and to affirm, with various degrees of triumphalism, that Asian societies are better – more ethical, cohesive and disciplined – than their decadent counterparts in the West.”
While it seems that President Karzai is wavering under international pressure, it brings the rights of women, specifically in what context they are dictated and by whom, back to the center of human rights discussion.
Read the article in the New York Times
Read Asian Values in Blackwell Reference Online
Human rights are universal.
I think each individual in the world agrees that human rights should be protected. However, in determining what is counted as human rights is not neutral. It is dictated by those who have power and domination.
With respect to Hamid’s campaign, I think, it is not different from what politicians do in the West. They always try to please their prospective constituents.
I wonder if Karzai would respond differently to international pressures if he had a stronger base at home. It seems that the same weakness that led Karzai to pass the law is also, ironically, perhaps protecting women in the long run. How interesting!
PSKIP.ORG, you make a very good point that there is a good deal of disagreement on what ought to constitute a human right. Additionally, you are correct that this sort of political pandering occurs in both the East and the West.
I’m not sure that it can be claimed that all individuals in the world agree that human rights should be protected, if women’s rights are not included in this category. I think you will find that the debate over the universality of human rights is far more complicated. Some scholars argue that a right is not a right unless it is accompanied by recourse. If individuals do not have reason to believe that their “rights” will be realized, do they exist?