Broadcast: Monday 08 May 2006 08:00 PM
Iraqi women were the first to mobilize and start to establish organizations in the mushrooming civil society after the downfall of the previous regime.
Dr Nadje Al-Ali: Political Rights
Iraqi women were the first to mobilize and start to establish organizations
in the mushrooming civil society after the downfall of the previous regime.
They came together to provide humanitarian assistance, social services and education
for women, but also to demand their legal and political rights. Despite the
rhetoric, the Coalition Provisional Authority did not seriously try to involve
women in governance and reconstruction processes. When women demanded a 40%
quota in all government institutions, including Parliament, Ambassador Bremer
insisted that the US was not in the business of doing quotas. Due to the persistence
of Iraqi women activists inside and outside Iraq, a compromise of 25% was enshrined
in the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) and later on in the constitution.
However, many of the women who are on the lists of Islamist political parties
are not interested in women's rights and merely echo the opinions of conservative
male politicians within the party.
The most significant loss in terms of long term implications for women's rights relates to the Iraqi constitution, ratified by national referendum in October 2005. Although the Iraqi constitution grants women the right to pass on nationality to their children, a demand by feminists all over the region, it fails to grant women rights within the family. In comparison to the family laws enshrined in the 1959 constitution, and the amendments made in 1978, the current stipulation constitutes a huge set back for women. The current family law is governed according to religious sect, leaving wide the possibility of conservative interpretations and discriminatory practices with respect to marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance. The lack of unified law also works to increase sectarian divisions within society.
Right now Iraqi women are squeezed between the rhetoric of women's liberation by the US and UK and conservative Islamist calls for a return to so-called tradition. To signal a radical break with the previous regime that was secular in nature, many push for a greater role of religious law, especially with respect to matters related to women and the family. For Islamist insurgents but also militias affiliated to political parties in government, women have become a symbol for resisting the occupation and more generally western imperialism. The current developments and trends signal that, rather than being liberated, Iraqi women might turn out to be the biggest losers in the new Iraq.
Dr Nadje Al-Ali is from the Institute of Arab & Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter
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