Council Plan Would Cut Women's Legal Rights US Lawmakers
governing council has quietly approved a plan to replace some existing
legal rights of women with Islamic law or "Shariah," according
to 44 U.S. lawmakers, who warn Washington of a "brewing women's
right's crisis" in the U.S.-occupied country.
a letter sent to President George W. Bush on Monday, the federal
politicians, led by Representatives Carolyn Maloney, Eddie Bernice
Johnson and Darlene Hooley, complain the move will reverse legal
guarantees for Iraqi women, who were among the most liberated in
the Arab world.
prevent this order from taking effect, we strongly urge you and
your administration to take steps now to protect the rights of Iraqi
women," wrote the lawmakers, who represent both Bush's Republican
Party and the opposition Democrats.
White House had no immediate comment.
lawmakers were referring to IGC resolution 137, approved by the
25-member body Dec. 29, which replaces Iraq's 1959 personal-status
legislation with religious laws to be administered by clerics from
the country's different religious faiths, depending on the sect
to which the parties in any dispute belonged.
change could affect everything from the right to education, employment
and freedom of movement, to property inheritance, divorce and child
custody, according to the letter writers.
resolution must still be approved by the de facto government in
Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), headed by Ambassador
Jerry Bremer, in order to become legally binding.
to Bremer on Friday, MADRE, a New York-based international rights
advocate for women, argued that IGC's action lacked transparency
and was taken without any public debate or open consultation, with
only a minority of council members present.
less than 15 minutes of discussions, the IGC none of whose members
were elected by Iraqis passed Resolution 137, effectively abolishing
women's legal rights in 'liberated' Iraq," said MADRE's associate
director, Yifat Susskind.
the direct authority of the Bush administration, the IGC has privileged
sectarianism over inclusiveness and violated core principles of
women, only three of whom serve on the IGC, are also protesting
the resolution, according to recent press reports.
will send us home and shut the door, just like what happened to
women in Afghanistan," Kurdish lawyer Amira Hassan Abdullah
told the Washington Post last month. "The old law wasn't
perfect, but this one would make Iraq a jungle. Iraq women will
accept it over their dead bodies."
IGC's action, according to various reports, came at the behest of
conservative Shiite members of the IGC when Abdul Aziz Hakim, a
Shiite who heads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution
in Iraq (SCIRI), chaired the body. Secular and Kurdish members of
the council have since argued against the measure.
the CPA is considered highly unlikely to ratify the change, women's
rights advocates are concerned that Muslim conservatives could push
it through the transitional government to which sovereignty is supposed
to be returned by the CPA no later than Jun. 30.
clerics are not only expected to increase their representation in
the government, but they might be supported by conservative Sunnis,
as well. Since the ouster of former president Saddam Hussein by
U.S.-led forces last April, religious conservatives in both Shia
and Sunni parts of Iraq are said to have become increasingly prominent
this law would not go into effect until after Jun. 30, 2004 ...
we will be unable to stop the implementation of these types of harmful
laws," said the lawmakers' letter to Bush. "It is imperative
that we act now to reverse this decision, or the lives of Iraqi
women will be worse because of America's actions. We cannot allow
that to happen."
lawmakers said they were particularly angered by a column on women's
rights by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in Sunday's Washington
Post. Wolfowitz is currently in Baghdad reviewing the military
and political situation there.
in the New Iraq," argued, "women must have an equal
role and more women should be included in Iraqi governing bodies
and ministries," but failed to mention the growing controversy
over Resolution 137 or the threat to women's rights it poses.
would hope that Mr. Wolfowitz and this administration aren't viewing
this situation through rose-colored glasses," said Maloney.
"There is a women's rights crisis on the horizon, and we must
ruthless a place as Iraq was under its former dictatorship, women
did hold basic rights and were educated participants in society."
in the postwar period, she went on, "women have been brutally
attacked and discouraged from participating in civic activities.
The governing council's rash move has started Iraqi women down a
dangerous slippery slope that ends in a human rights crisis. The
time to act is now or never."
making tremendous strides for equality and parity in Iraqi society,
the women there are now being forced to fight yesterday's battle
anew as some elements in their society attempt to roll back the
hands on the clock of progress," said Johnson.
would be utterly ironic if the women of Iraq were forced to grapple
with an age-old regime of oppression even more despotic than the
one we liberated them from during the war," she added.
Bush administration had originally planned to oversee the writing
and ratification of a new constitution before handing sovereignty
back to an Iraqi government.
US lawyers are continuing to work with the IGC on an interim charter
that reportedly includes equal rights for women and minorities,
there is no guarantee the principles enshrined in it will be incorporated
in a new constitution.
early draft of the interim charter calls for at least 40 percent
of the membership of any interim legislature and constitutional
convention to be women, but IGC officials have indicated that 20
percent is what will probably be agreed on.
its letter, MADRE argued the resolution not only threatens women's
rights, but might also worsen growing sectarian tensions in Iraq.
The proposal, "would mean the introduction of separate provisions
and rules for each of the various sects in Iraq, and will thus threaten
the fabric of Iraqi civil society," it adds.
Ismael Hakki, a retired judge, told the Post the resolution
will "send Iraqi families back to the Middle Ages. It will
allow men to have four or five or six wives," she said. "It
will take away children from their mothers."
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service