Iraq Constitution ‘Big Disappointment’ for Women

Iraq’s draft constitution was finalized on Sunday and will be sent to voters for a nationwide referendum to be held in six weeks. The finalized draft includes language of grave concern to women in Iraq—namely, that Islam is to be considered “a basic source of law” and that no law may contradict the “undisputed rules” of Islam. According to the Associated Press, the final document also calls for the Supreme Federal Court to include judges and experts in both law and sharia (Islamic) law, which suggests that clerics may serve on the Supreme Court, further endangering women’s rights.

The document also allows Iraqis to choose whether they follow secular law or sharia law in family matters, such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance. What is not clear, however, is how the law will address differences in opinion between a husband and a wife or a father and a daughter over which law to follow. On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Tim Russert asked Zalmay Khalilzad, US Ambassador to Iraq, what would happen if, for example, a Shiite man took his wife to a Shiite religious court—would “that woman…have equal protection?” Khalilzad said that would be regulated by the legislature.

Safia Taleb al-Souhail, the Iraqi woman given a prominent spot in President Bush’s 2005 State of the Union address, had previously publicly denounced the prominence given to Islamic law in settling family matters in the constitution, which remained intact in the final version. “When we came back from exile, we thought we were going to improve the rights and position of women,” said Souhail, now Iraq’s Ambassador to Egypt, according to Reuters. But look what happened—we have lost all the gains we made over the last 30 years. It’s a big disappointment.”

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Associated Press 8/29/05; Meet the Press 8/28/05; New York Times 8/29/05; Reuters 8/24/05

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