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July 27, 2005

Iraqi Women Get Shafted

Iraqi woman may lose their basic rights under the new Iraqi Constitution. I doubt that many American or British women or men expected when we started this war to end up pushing Iraqi women’s lives back at least 50 years – to a state similar to that of the more restrictive Islamic governments. Yet that looks likely to happen.  


The Iraqi Constitutional Committee released a draft last week that would severely restrict women’s rights. From a post on Common Dreams:




According to this draft, the new Iraqi transitional government acknowledges the equal rights of men and women in all fields – “as long as it doesn’t contradict with sharia law.”


If implemented, the proposed new laws will restrict women’s rights, specifically in matters relating to marriage, divorce and family inheritance. A marriage enjoined by a women’s free will is likely to be made more difficult, and divorces by men relatively easier.


The old Iraq, unlike most neighboring countries, passed specific laws granting equal rights to women. Iraq has been operating under a secular civil status law, passed in 1959 and still in effect. Iraqi women enjoyed basic human rights under the otherwise repressive regime of Saddam Hussein, as did religious minorities. During the early part of the occupation we saw many stories about Iraqi women in the press and they were mostly stories about educated, westernized women in professional roles. We have not seen a lot of those lately. This war and this occupation have not been kind to women. It could get worse. 


More after the fold.

The New York Times has more from an article published on July 20th:


One of the critical passages is in Article 14 of the chapter, a sweeping measure that would require court cases dealing with matters like marriage, divorce and inheritance to be judged according to the law practiced by the family's sect or religion.


Under that measure, Shiite women in Iraq, no matter what their age, generally could not marry without their families' permission. Under some interpretations of Shariah, men could attain a divorce simply by stating their intention three times in their wives' presence.


Article 14 would replace a body of Iraqi law that has for decades been considered one of the most progressive in the Middle East in protecting the rights of women, giving them the freedom to choose a husband and requiring divorce cases to be decided by a judge.

If adopted, the shift away from the more secular and egalitarian provisions of the interim constitution would be a major victory for Shiite clerics and religious politicians, who chafed at the Americans' insistence that Islam be designated in the interim constitution as just "a source" of legislation. Several writers of the new constitution say they intend, at the very least, to designate Islam as "a main source" of legislation.


Religious Shiites tried to abolish the 1959 law in December 2003. Women took to the streets to protest.  Paul Bremer prevented the move and angered many religious Shiites in the process. 


Women are again taking to the streets. About 200 women and men showed up last week at a demonstration in the heat and despite the difficult security situation. Hanaa Edwar of the Iraqi Al-Amal Association, which organized the event, said her organization was protesting the attempt to marginalize the role of women and objecting to depriving the civil society organizations a place on the committee drafting the constitution. 


Charlotte Bunch of the U.S.-based Center for Women’s Global Leadership, again from the Common Dreams post, says:


I think that the United States should be held accountable for its disregard of the impact on women's rights of the (military) occupation -- something many people said in advance when the Bush administration tried to claim the war would benefit women, and many pointed out that Iraq had some of the best laws and policies regarding women's rights already.

“I think that the U.S. government should respond to the call from women’s groups in Iraq and work to ensure that equality is guaranteed in the constitution and that more women are involved in this process. . . . After all, the United States had much to do with picking the people to be involved in reconstruction and has done little to bring women’s rights advocates into the process. It can and should still do so now.


I was outraged when we went into Iraq, outraged at the effect of an ill-planned out implementation on both our forces and the Iraqi people, and am now outraged at the impact this lousy war will have on the women of Iraq for decades to come. If there are any organized campaigns to prevent this aspect of the new constitution from being set in stone, I’ll pass it along. In the meantime, letters to the editor and to our Congressfolk are a place to begin. 

Posted by Lynn Allen on July 27, 2005 at 01:10 PM in National and International Politics | Permalink


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