ROME, April 4 Italy could withdraw its female
troops stationed in Afghanistan to protest against a new law for
the country's Shi'ite minority that has been attacked as a blow
to women's rights, the Italian defence minister said.
Italy, which is the sixth largest troop contributor to the
NATO-led military operation in Afghanistan, is the latest to
express concern on the Shi'ite Personal Status Law after some
Afghan lawmakers criticised it as legalising marital rape.
"I realise that it would not be a very easy choice," Ignazio
La Russa told Corriere della Sera newspaper in an interview on
"But a temporary withdrawal of our women in uniform, perhaps
with the exception of those involved in health services, could
represent a very significant gesture on the role of women."
He called the new law a step back in the modernisation of
Afghanistan and in contrast to the values that justify the
presence of Italian troops in the country.
"Everyone would understand, Shi'ites included, that women
can accomplish the same work done by men," he said, explaining
"It would be the best education for the Afghan population.
The United States, NATO, Canada and the United Nations have
already voiced concern about the law, but Afghan President Hamid
Karzai says the criticisms were based on a wrong translation or
misinterpretation of the law.
La Russa said his proposal had yet to be discussed with
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, but it was immediately
welcomed by Equal Opportunities Minister Mara Carfagna.
Such a move would be a "strong reponse" to a law that
violates basic women's rights, Carfagna said in a statement.
Separately, La Russa told reporters at the NATO summit in
Strasbourg on Saturday that Italy would also heed the the U.S.
call for more European help in Afghanistan by sending an
additional 524 soldiers to the 2,665 already present there.
(Writing by Deepa Babington; Editing by Angus MacSwan)