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Iraqi Women May Lose Rights Under New Constitution

In response to provisions in the draft Iraq constitution limiting women’s rights, approximately 200 women protested in Baghdad last week to demand full equality between women and men. Activists have also met with constitutional committee members to lobby for women’s rights. Iraq’s new draft constitution draft would allow Islam to play an important part in the making of civil law. While Shiite Muslim leaders are promoting a larger role for Islam, women’s rights groups express concerns about provisions that would take away rights they already enjoy including marriage, inheritance, and divorce rights for women. Activist Hanaa Edwar said, “We are a pluralistic society and this constitution will determine our future. It is crucial for us. We cannot allow it to move us backwards and make a mockery of conventions that Iraq has signed on human rights,” reports BBC News.

The draft currently being considered by the constitution-writing committee states that, “The state provides all rights for women to make them equal to men according to Islamic sharia laws and to help women to make a balance between their family and societal duties,” according to the Los Angeles Times (emphasis added). It is this very language that would take away rights already enjoyed by Iraqi women. The Los Angeles Times reports that US officials have criticized the provisions on women’s rights, but have not commented on the references to Islam. US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad told the Times, “A society cannot achieve all its potential if it does things that prevent…half of its population to make the fullest contribution that it can.”

Initially, the draft proposal also included phasing out the guarantee included in the interim constitution that women make up one-fourth of the seats in Parliament. However, secular members of the constitution committee won on this issue and the provision has been reinstated, reported the LA Times.

August 15 marks the deadline for the completion of Iraq’s new constitution.

Sources:

BBC News 7/26/05; Reuters 7/26/05; The Boston Globe 7/26/05; The Los Angeles Times 7/27/05; The Feminist News Wire 7/21/05

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