Earlier this past November, a proposal was presented to the Iraqi Parliament calling for amendments to the Iraqi Personal Status Code that would change the face of legal rights for women in Iraq. The Iraqi Personal Status Code “upholds a range of women’s legal rights on marriage, divorce, inheritance, alimony, child custody, and more.”
A good portion of these proposed amendments wouldn’t just change legal rights for women – they would violate human rights altogether. The amendment would allow for child marriages of girls as young as nine years old. Some of the other amendments call for weakening legal protection for women from polygamy and abuse. According to the Washington Post, “The amendments include sectarian religious laws – breaking with the current law based on Sunni and Shiite jurisprudence.”
Iraqi women’s rights activists – Iraqi Women Network, Iraqi Women Journalist’s Forum, and Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq – have been fighting this proposal all the way by pushing for more progressive reforms. Activists have even started a petition that asks for support in demanding that the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Saleem Al-Jubouri, and Iraqi MPs reject this proposal altogether. All of these groups are fighting for women’s rights and demanding to be heard.
Suad Abu Dayyeh, from Equality Now, told The Guardian, “This bill contradicts international conventions and the national law in Iraq. If it is approved, in effect, each and every religious sect will follow their clerics. It will be catastrophic for women’s rights.”
Dayyeh adds, “We are outraged, and we will be supporting women in Iraq by issuing alerts about the bill. We are also writing letters to the speaker of [parliament] and the president.”
Currently, it is illegal to force girls under the age of 18 to marry, but all of that could change if the new law is passed. The amendment clearly states, “It is permitted to conduct a marriage contract for the followers of the Sunni and Shia sects, according to their faith, by those who are permitted to conduct such contracts as directed by the jurists of that faith.” 40 parliamentarians have signed the new amendment even though elections will not take place until May of next year.
Belkis Willi, Iraq and Qatar researcher at Human Rights Watch, shared with the Guardian that the new amendment “fundamentally undermines international law and also Iraqi law. Some religious sects do not allow equal rights – in terms of marriage and in terms of inheritance. If you read the amendment it says very little. What it does say is religious leaders from individual sects and religious tenets will govern marriage contracts.”
Willi adds, “One would think in the aftermath of Isis, one of the key priorities of the government would be to assert more clearly that everyone in Iraq has equal rights. We will be issuing a statement about this proposed amendment, trying to hammer down how it will erode the current rights. We will also be talking to MPs to bring pressure on them to make sure it will not pass.”
While this amendment is a step in the wrong direction for Iraq, it is inspiring to see people fighting for the women and children this law could affect.
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