Iraq Constitution Could be Setback for Women’s Rights

Women’s groups in Iraq held protests on Tuesday over draft language in the new Iraqi constitution that threatens to severely limit women’s rights. Provisions currently being considered include putting family law, which covers marriage, divorce and inheritance, under the jurisdiction of religious courts, according to the New York Times. In addition, the individual family’s sect or religion would determine the law that would be applied in each case, leaving women in more restrictive, stricter sects the most vulnerable.

Also being considered is the elimination of the provision in the interim constitution requiring that women hold at least 25 percent of the seats in the National Assembly, according to the LA Times. Iraqi women worked hard to achieve this requirement, and 31 percent of the National Assembly seats are currently held by women. There is concern that, without the requirement, their numbers would drop significantly.

The draft document guarantees equal rights for women as long as those rights do not violate sharia law. Previously, Iraq was governed by family laws enacted in 1959, which were among the most liberal in the Middle East. Yanar Mohammed, head of the Women’s Freedom in Iraq Movement, said, “We reject the changes prepared on the 1959 law because some Islamic parties want to kidnap the rights of women in Iraq. We reject such attempts because women should be full citizens with full rights, not semi-human beings,” according to the Associated Press.

The interim constitution did not include language using Islam as a source of law, but the drafts have referred to sharia as a “main source” of law and attempted to clearly define Iraq as a Muslim country. These changes are similar to those made in the Afghanistan’s constitution, which states that “in Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.” In both countries, this type of language and dependence on religious courts leaves human rights and women’s rights vulnerable to extremist interpretations of Islam.

DISCUSS women’s rights and the draft Iraqi constitution at ms.musings, Ms. magazine’s blog

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Associated Press 7/20/05; Feminist Daily News 1/5/04; Los Angeles Times 7/20/05; New York Times 7/20/05

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