Recent reports on the draft Iraqi constitution raised serious that women’s rights would be severely limited if the draft was not changed prior to its scheduled adoption on August 15. The release of the draft document has proven that the concerns were justified. The draft document includes provisions that would so drastically limit women’s rights that Iraqi women are appealing for support from the international community to save their rights, according to the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).
Calling for “support and solidarity” for Iraqi women, UNIFEM Executive Director Noeleen Heyzer said yesterday, “This will be a setback to the gains made by the women of Iraq, who are among the most educated in the Middle East and capable of assuming leadership roles.”
A major concern for women is the language calling for the use of sharia as the “main source” of law in the country and making equal rights for women subject to sharia law. This type of language and reliance on religious courts leaves women’s rights, including marriage, divorce, and inheritance, vulnerable to extremist beliefs and interpretations. Iraq’s interim constitution refers to sharia only as an “important source” for legislation. Previously, Iraq was governed by family laws enacted in 1959, which were among the most liberal in the Middle East.
Also in danger of being taken away under the draft constitution is the provision in the interim constitution requiring women hold 25 percent of the seats in the parliament. The women of Iraq have met with members of the constitution-drafting committee to express their concerns and have demonstrated against the provisions in the draft document that restrict their rights. The drafts are subject to debate and can be amended until August 15.