New constitution could erode women’s rights

BAGHDAD (AP) — Shiite members of the committee drafting Iraq’s new constitution are pushing for a greater role for Islam in civil law, members said Wednesday, a proposal that could erode women’s rights in such matters as marriage, divorce and inheritance.
Meanwhile, the head of the drafting committee said Wednesday that the six subcommittees will submit the draft document to the full 71-member committee in the next two days.

“It will be an initial draft,” Humam Hammoudi said. “We can say that we will abide by the specific date and on Aug. 1 we should say that we don’t need to extend the period.” The first two weeks of next month will be for the parliament to discuss the document, which has an Aug. 15 deadline, he said. After that five million copies will be distributed to all Iraqi families.

Mariam Rayyes, a female Shiite Muslim member of the drafting committee, said Islam will be a “main source” for legislation in the new constitution and the state religion.

“It gives women all rights and freedoms as long as they don’t contradict with our values,” Rayyes said in a telephone interview. “Concerning marriage, inheritance and divorce, this is civil status laws; that should not contradict with religious values.” Her comments are simply a proposal since the draft constitution has not been approved. Efforts to roll back women’s rights during the US occupation were shelved under pressure from women’s groups and others.

However, proponents of a greater role for Islamic law are pushing for language that could disadvantage women.

Under Islamic law, for example, a woman gets half of what a man would get when it comes to inheritance. Men also have the power when it comes to initiating divorces.

Qassem Dawoud, a member of former prime minister Ayad Allawi’s secular block in parliament, told reporters: “I can assure that [there will be] no humiliation to the rights of women in the new Iraq.” Hammoudi, the head of the committee, said parts of the draft were read to female members, who suggested a couple changes. “The results were good and the women were satisfied with it.” He did not elaborate.

Iraq has been operating under a 1959 civil status law that treated every person according to the sect he belongs. This law will still be in effect after the new constitution is drafted.

“We reject the changes prepared on the 1959 law because some Islamic parties want to kidnap the rights of women in Iraq,” said Yanar Mohammad, a women’s rights activist and head of Women’s Freedom in Iraq Movement. “We reject such attempts because women should be full citizens with full rights, not semi-human beings.” She accused members of religious groups of trying to transform Iraqi women into “second-class citizens.” Rayyes said committee members have decided that over the next two four-year parliamentary terms, women will make up at least 25 per cent of the membership.

After two terms, women will be allowed to get as many seats as they win in elections, without a minimum percentage.

During the Jan. 30 assembly elections, the interim constitution required that one-third of parliament members had to be women.

The new constitution will also give Iraqi women married to foreign men the right to have Iraqi citizenship for their children — a right they had long fought for, Rayyes said.

Rayyes said there has also been an agreement on matters of women in parliament and civil law, but some members have some reservations.

Committee member and Judge Wael Abul-Latif said if a girl under the age of 15 wants to get married, she must have approval from her parents.

Hammoudi said the new constitution cannot be amended in its first four years, but afterwards, any amendment should be agreed upon by two-thirds of the parliament followed by a referendum.

The main issues that committee members are still wrestling with are federalism and Iraq’s identity.

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