US May Overturn Iraq’s Vote to Put Family Law Under Islamic Law

The chief American Administrator in Iraq yesterday told a group of Iraqi women that he will block any attempt to make Islam the main source of law in Iraq’s constitution. Iraqi women’s rights activists and US women’s groups such as the Feminist Majority have been protesting the Iraqi Governing Council’s recent vote on Resolution 137 to place family law under the jurisdiction of sharia law. Bremer has to sign into law all the measures, including the interim constitution, voted upon by the 25-member US appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

According to the New York Times, Bremer said, “Anyone seeing all this talent and ability here, they would recognize that barriers placed in the way of women are barriers to the development and growth and prosperity of Iraq, and indeed the Arab world…we in the coalition are committed to continuing to promote women’s rights in Iraq.” Bremer also stated that Iraqi women must have substantial presence in political institutions.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Thursday, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) raised concerns about Iraqi women’s rights under the US-backed regime. “I have been visited by women from Iraq who are just absolutely terrified, because even under Saddam, although their life in many ways was hell on wheels and although they are very happy he’s not there, they had more freedom than they may have now,” she said. Addressing Secretary of State Colin Powell, she asked, “Are you confident that we will be able to use our influence to protect the rights of women…?” Powell responded that “we would not have succeeded in our mission if we found that after we set up a new government in Iraq women in any way are not allowed to participate fully in the society with the same rights as anyone else in the society.”

For the past 40 years, Iraq’s civil code has had legal protections for women. For example, it prohibited marriage below the age of 18, arbitrary divorce, and polygamy. Women’s rights advocates argue that moving these laws under Islamic law will destroy the status of Iraqi women’s rights regarding marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody rights.

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Associated Press 2/16/04; CBS News 2/16/04; New York Times 2/17/04; Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing 2/12/04

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