U.S. must stop Iraqi women's human rights from unraveling
August 4, 2005
The current draft of Iraq's constitution, which is expected to be finalized by Aug. 15, is a threat to women's human rights worldwide.
In the most dangerous provision in the draft, Article 14, Iraq's 1959 personal status laws would be replaced with Shariah, or Islamic law.
Such a move would roll back five decades of struggle by the Iraqi women's movement, aswell as dash hopes for democratic secularism in the country.
If passed, Article 14 could give self-appointed religious clerics the authority to sanction grave violations against Iraqi women, including denying them the rights to freedom of movement and travel, inheritance and child custody.
In the worst instance, clerics -- and others -- could arbitrarily interpret religious law to legalize forced marriages, nonconsensual polygamy, compulsory religious dress, domestic
abuse, execution by stoning as punishment for female adultery and public flogging of women for disobeying religious rules.
The 1959 laws are among the most progressive in the Middle East and an important victory won by the Iraqi women's movement. They apply to all Iraqis. But the new constitution would allow different laws to be applied to different people, depending on one's sex and religious affiliation.
Our country bears direct responsibility for the current climate of hostility to Iraqi women's rights.
In 2003, Coalition Provisional Authority Chief Paul Bremer personally appointed reactionary Muslim clerics to the Iraqi Governing Council, empowering leaders with a stated commitment to restricting women's rights. Many of these religious clerics remain in positions of power in Iraq's current governing body, the National Assembly.
In the period leading up to the election of the National Assembly, the United States refused to honor a series of demands by Iraqi women's organizations, including calls to create a women's ministry, appoint women to the drafting committee of Iraq's interim constitution and pass laws to uphold women's human rights and criminalize domestic violence.
In fact, the state of Iraqi women's human rights is worse today under U.S. occupation than it was under the notoriously repressive regime of Saddam Hussein.
Before being "liberated" by U.S. forces, Iraqi women enjoyed rights to education, employment, freedom of movement, equal pay for equal work and universal day care, as well as the rights to inherit and own property, choose their own husbands, vote and hold public office.
Ironically, these fundamental rights stand to be abolished in a "democratic" Iraq that has been ushered into being by our government.
Because the U.S. government helped empower many of these religious extremists who now hold sway over Iraq's constitutional process, we are responsible for ensuring that this
oppressive constitution does not pass.
What's more, as the occupying power in Iraq, the United States is legally obligated under the 1907 Hague Convention to guarantee the human rights of Iraq's civilian population,
including the full range of women's human rights.
The freedom of Iraqi women is at stake.
Vivian Stromberg is executive director of MADRE (www.madre.org), an international women's human rights organization. She can be reached at email@example.com.