Iraqi women concerned about rights

Over the last two months, Iraqi women activists and civil society groups have been working tirelessly to ensure that women's rights and freedoms remain on the agenda of the constitutional committee of the National Assembly tasked with drafting Iraq's new constitution. As the committee continues in its drafting process, women are becoming increasingly alarmed at what they see as a curtailing of their rights, as enshrined in the earlier interim constitution.
Two weeks ago, a draft of the constitution was released to the press by a member of a sub-committee of the main constitutional committee. Of particular concern to Iraqi women was the Chapter on Duties and Rights, which now referred to Sharia Law as the "main source" for legislation in the new constitution. In the earlier interim constitution, Sharia Law was referred to as an important source of legislation but not a main source.

The draft also indicated the following:

1. That the quota of 25 per cent for women's representation in all decision-making bodies, provided for in the interim constitution, in the new constitution needed only to be followed for the next two election phases. This quota was also moved from the Chapter on Duties and Rights to the Chapter on Transitional Laws, implying that the quota could easily be removed in the future.

2. That Resolution 137, removed in the interim constitution through successful lobbying by Iraqi women, has reappeared in Article 14 of the new constitution. Resolution 137 sought to abolish Iraq's longstanding and progressive Personal Status Law governing family matters, requiring instead that all family issues such as marriage, divorce and inheritance be judged according to the law as practiced by the family's own sect or religion. Article 14 intends to allow Iraqis to apply their own sectarian or religious laws to family issues.

3. That the state guarantees the equal rights of women with men in all areas, on condition that this did not contradict Sharia Law.

4. That the state acknowledges all international laws and treaties as long as they did not contradict Sharia Law.

On Tuesday 19 July 2005, women staged a "sit-in" demonstration in a large tent in Baghdad's Firdaws Square. An appeal in English was circulated as widely as possible to international parliaments and organizations, to the United Nations, and to international women's groups. Read the full appeal.

Hanaa Edwar, a prominent activist from the Iraqi Al-Amal association described the event: "Despite the fiery heat and the deteriorating security situation, brave women from different governorates have taken the initiative to raise their voices demanding to ensure women's rights and equality in the constitution and protesting against the attempt to marginalize the role of women and their human rights as well as the role of civil society organizations in the process of writing the constitution." Read her narrative of the sit-in.

The sit-in, which drew roughly 200 women and men, ended after a few hours when it was announced that two Sunni members of the drafting committee had been assassinated.

UNIFEM has been working, together with the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), to support the Iraqi women's movement, serving as a catalyst in promoting dialogue between all the various groups, and assisting in coordinating with UNAMI and other international organizations. On the same day as the sit-in, UNIFEM and UNAMI organized for a group of about 30 women to meet with members of the drafting subcommittee of the Chapter on Duties and Rights to articulate their concerns -- this meeting also ended abruptly because of news of the assassinations. Another similar meeting is being planned for the near future.