Bargaining Away Iraqi Women’s Rights

A meeting to finalize the Iraq constitution, scheduled for tonight, has been canceled, delaying the adoption of the new constitution yet again. Women in Iraq are very concerned about the language in the constitution making Islamic law “a primary source of legislation” and providing that no law may be in conflict with the “universal provisions” of the religion provisions. Moreover, the provision requiring 25 percent of seats in the National Assembly to be reserved for women has been relegated to a section of the constitution labeled “transitional,” according to the New York Times, raising fears that it will not be enforced or will only be enforced for a brief time. If the document is adopted in its current form with this language, Iraqi women will suffer major setbacks as they lose rights that they currently enjoy.

According to the New York Times, US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad supported the agreement on the inclusion of Islamic (sharia) law as a main source, though not the source, of law in the constitution. Strongly opposed by Iraqi women activists, this would place family law, including marriage, divorce and inheritance laws, under religious interpretations that severely limit the rights of women. “Iraqi women will lose so much if this constitution is passed,” said Suha Azzawi, a member of the constitutional panel and a professor at the University of Baghdad, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Washington Post reported that Khalilzad said the proposed constitution guarantees equal rights for all. However, former US Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith, who is serving as an informal constitutional advisor to the Kurds, expressed disagreement with Khalilzad’s assessment. Galbraith condemned the “hypocrisy” of the Bush Administration on the constitution’s impact on women’s rights reported the Washington Post.

Once the draft constitution is approved by the National Assembly, it will go to Iraqi voters directly in a nationwide referendum, the LA Times reports.

TAKE ACTION Urge Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad to use their influence to preserve women’s rights in the Iraqi constitution


New York Times 8/22/05, 8/24/05; Washington Post 8/23/05; LA Times 8/25/05; CNN.com 8/23/05; Feminist Daily News Wire 8/12/05

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