Iraqi Women Need Support and Solidarity: Women Appeal Against Curtailing of Rights

Friday, July 23 2010

Iraqi women are appealing for support as they become increasingly alarmed at what they see as a curtailing of their rights as enshrined in the interim constitution. The women's appeal comes as drafts of the country's new constitution have been released that refer to Sharia Law as "the main source" for legislation. In the interim constitution, Sharia law was referred to as an "important source" of legislation. Drafts of Iraq's new constitution are subject to debate and amendments until 15 August 2005, when the constitution must be presented for approval.

Of particular concern to Iraqi women are provisions in the draft constitution's Chapter on Duties and Rights that make equal rights for women conditional on conformity with Sharia Law, and foresee the acknowledgement of international laws and treaties only as long as these do not contradict Sharia law. The constitutional drafts further stipulate that family issues such as marriage, divorce and inheritance will be decided according to the laws of one's sect or religion rather than by the Personal Status Law. Finally, the proposed constitution states that the quota of 25 per cent for women's representation in all decision-making bodies will be operative only for two more elections.

"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 strong leadership roles," said Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). "Iraqi women need the solidarity and support of the international community."

Heyzer emphasized the need for Iraqi women to be fully involved in the political process: "Women's participation has added legitimacy and credibility to political institutions as well as improved the quality and scope of national planning and decision-making", she said. "Iraqi women have maintained the social fabric of a nation with a history of turmoil and conflict, and have done so with courage and perseverance. Women have the collaborative outlook needed to deal with Iraqi society's complexities, and the pragmatic organizing experience needed to cut through the current chaos."

Heyzer also pointed out that Iraq has signed the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child. "These mechanisms give meaning to the term "rule of law" and describe the measures needed in a society in which women and men can enjoy equal rights. They could be cornerstones in the deliberations of the Constitutional Committee in Iraq."

In collaboration with the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), UNIFEM facilitated a dialogue between a group of about thirty women and members of the drafting subcommittee for the Chapter on Duties and Rights. UNIFEM is also supporting the Iraq Women's Movement's information campaign on the Constitution to encourage public discussion and debate on the issues.

UNIFEM is the women's fund at the United Nations, providing financial support and technical assistance to innovative programs promoting women's human rights, their economic and political empowerment, and gender equality in over 100 countries. For more information, visit www.unifem.org

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