Women in the new Iraq

Some reports from Iraq have made me concerned about women rights in Iraq. Actually, I do not like to use the term of “women rights” because of its discriminating implication, the human rights term fulfills all including unquestionable equality between man and woman.

I know clearly that the United States avoids any colonial behavior in Iraq and that is good but under normative consideration leading to a consistent practice with the liberation course.

The human rights are something that the Iraqi leaders must clearly know it exceeds their jurisdiction. They are not an Iraqi affair they are a human and international affair. I hope that the President Bush would tackle this important question seriously.

Following are related materials:

(Thanks to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies for gathering these materials)

Women Fear Imposition of Islamic Law in Iraq

Associated Press
August 5, 2005

The president of the Women's Alliance for a Democratic Iraq says she's alarmed that the proposed Iraqi constitution could impose Islamic law on everyone.

Basma Fakri says that could result in forced marriages of girls as young as nine.

Fakri was joined at a Washington news conference by Zainab al-Suweij (ZAY'-nahb ahl-SWAYJ'), the woman who heads the American Islamic Congress.

Al-Suweij says Iraqis want freedom of religion, freedom of speech and other internationally recognized human rights. She adds that while Islamic law should be one of the sources of Iraq's constitution and legal system, it mustn't be the only one.

Iraqi Women Urge U.S. to Protect Their Rights

By Sharon Behn
The Washington Times
August 5, 2005

Iraqi women took their fight for equal rights to American lawmakers yesterday, urging them to use their influence to see that women's rights are protected in the new constitution.

With just 10 days until delegates in Baghdad present the final draft of Iraq's basic law, it is still not clear how large a role will be given to Islamic Shariah law, which traditionally subordinates women to men.

"The [American] men and women, the brave people who went there to free [Iraqis] from Saddam [Hussein], they didn't free them to put them under another dictatorship; that is very clear to all of us," said Basma Fakri, president of the Women's Alliance for a Democratic Iraq.

During an appearance in Washington yesterday, she said it was entirely appropriate for President Bush, the Senate and House to let Iraq's constitutional negotiators know "that Iraq should be free."

"That was the mission. We don't want to go back in time, we don't want to create another dictatorship. That should be clear and loud to the Iraqi government and to the constitutional committee," she said.

The appeal has had some success in Washington, where the House passed a resolution last week that "strongly encourages Iraq's Transitional National Assembly to adopt a constitution that grants women equal rights under the law and to work to protect such rights."

The resolution also "pledges to support the efforts of Iraqi women to fully participate in a democratic Iraq."

However, with Congress in recess during the crucial last two weeks of the constitution-writing process, little more pressure is likely. Calls to several congressional offices yesterday found mainly staffers who were unwilling or unable to comment on the issue.

One exception was the office of Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican. Spokesman Dan Scandling said Mr. Wolf sent a letter to the Bush administration Wednesday night "expressing concern about religious freedoms and other potential rights' erosion" in Iraq.

Early drafts of the new Iraqi constitution said Shariah law, which sharply limits women's rights to own and inherit property among other things, should be the main source of all law in Iraq.
The drafts also declared that women will hold at least 25 percent of legislative seats only in the first two terms.

A draft that became public on Wednesday amended the key clause to say that Islam would be "one of the main sources" of the law. The Iraqi women welcomed the change but said continued pressure was needed.

The women also are demanding that all international treaties regarding human rights and women's rights be honored in the constitution, and that guarantees of female representation in the parliament and government be made permanent.

"The draft constitution as we have seen is a cause for alarm and a call for action," Miss Fakri said.

Tanya Gilly-Khailany, representing the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said women's rights activists have presented their case to U.S. officials, the United Nations, British Foreign Minister Jack Straw and the European Union.

Zainab al-Suwaij, executive director of the American Islamic Congress, rejected arguments put forward by officials of Iraq's dominant Shi'ite coalition that Iraq's culture was not ready to go beyond Shariah law.

"Iraq has a very high population of educated people and they are all aware of women's rights, and we are not asking for anything beyond the norm of our culture and religion," she said.

Women had many rights in the early years of Saddam Hussein's rule and were active in the workplace, but these rights steadily deteriorated toward the end of his dictatorship as he tried to court Islamic support.

The insurgency, which has targeted all sectors of Iraq's society, also has hit women hard, killing professional women and threatening those not wearing Islamic head coverings. Christian women regularly wear scarves and long skirts to avoid being targeted on the streets.

Julia Gimadyeva contributed to this report.

Iraqi Charter Draft Alarms Women's Rights Defenders

By Edward Epstein

The San Francisco Chronicle
August 5, 2005

American and Iraqi women's rights advocates fear that Iraq's new constitution, which is to be completed by Aug. 15, will limit women's ability to participate in almost all aspects of society.

Early drafts of the constitution that have been made public are based on Islamic Shariah law, which affect women's rights regarding such personal issues as marriage, divorce and inheritance.
But American officials, led by the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, are pressing for significant changes in the draft constitution, including full equality in the law for women.

The House, prompted by its Iraqi Women's Caucus co-chaired by Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Walnut Creek, adopted a resolution July 26 calling on the Iraqi National Assembly to ensure that the new constitution, which is supposed to be put before the nation's voters in a referendum in October, guarantees women's equality.

Tauscher called the attempt by fundamentalists to insert Shariah into the constitution "an aggressive and intolerable assault on women's rights.

Given the heavy American influence and military presence in Iraq, the House vote increased pressure on the constitution's drafters to protect women's rights. But the issue is one of many basic elements that remain unresolved as the deadline nears.

Other key sticking points include whether Iraq will be divided by ethnic and religious interests, whether national or regional authorities will control oil revenues, and the overall relations between Islam and the state.

The drafters have called in the country's top leaders, including Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and his predecessor, Ayad Allawi, to try to broker settlements so the Aug. 15 deadline can be kept. Just this week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld reiterated their position that Iraq stick to the deadline, even as insurgent attacks continue in some parts of the country.

Rice, appearing Monday on PBS' "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer,'' made it clear that women's rights under the new constitution are a key U.S. concern. "We're going to stand and stand strongly for the rights of women. We're making that very clear to the Iraqi government,'' she said.

In the House debate on the resolution, Tauscher pointed out that women make up 31 percent of the members in the Iraqi assembly. But that level of representation and other rights are now in danger, she said, threatening to disenfranchise women, who make up more than 50 percent of Iraq's population.

"This is the real test of our efforts to bring democracy and stability to Iraq,'' said Tauscher, who has traveled to Iraq and to Jordan to meet with Iraqi women and advise them on organizing and campaigning for their rights.

Tauscher, who voted in October 2002 to give President Bush the authority to oust Saddam Hussein but who has been a critic of the administration's handling of the post-Hussein situation, said a progressive constitution will give meaning to the sacrifice of Americans who have served in Iraq.

"We owe it to the American men and women in uniform who have lost their lives and to the people of Iraq to do all we can to protect women's rights in that country,'' she said.

The campaign to pressure Iraq over the final constitution continued Thursday with a press conference in Washington by the American Islamic Congress and the Women's Alliance for a Democratic Iraq. The groups said thousands of women in Iraq have formed More Than One Source, a group whose name evokes their idea that Islamic law should be only one of many sources for rights within any new constitution.

They want at least a permanent minimum of 25 percent female representation in the post-constitution National Assembly and the country's government.

Zainab Al-Suwaij, executive director of the American Islamic Congress, said the campaign also wants the constitution to say that Iraq will recognize all international treaties on women's rights, stress that men and women have equal rights under the law, and ban "all kinds of violence against women.''

He said the campaign is supported by Kurdish parties and the speaker of the assembly, but still faces opposition from conservative Sunni and Shiite members of the committee writing the constitution.

Basma Fakri, head of the Women's Alliance, said she was deeply concerned. "The draft constitution, as we have seen, is a case for alarm and a call for action,'' she said.

If Shariah is adopted, different groups can rely on their own interpretations of the law, she said, some more onerous for women than others. For instance, Fakri said, some interpretations will call for permitting multiple marriages or for forcing girls as young as 9 into marriages.

"The new constitution should contain clear articles that are not open for different interpretation that may curb women's rights,'' she said.

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