Earlier this month, Iraq’s parliament received amendments to its constitution that — if approved — will fundamentally change Iraqi women’s legal rights. The amendments include sectarian religious laws — breaking with the current law based on Sunni and Shiite jurisprudence.
The amendments apply to Iraq’s personal status code, which is a legal framework addressing family law that gathers most of women’s legal rights in matters of marriage, divorce, child custody, alimony or inheritance. One of the proposed amendments could allow child marriages of girls at age nine.
If approved, the amendments will affect marriage inside the civil court that provides legal protection for women from polygamy and different forms of abuse. It also weakens the power of the state appointed judge in granting power to sectarian religious authorities instead of a cross-sectarian reading of the law that decides whether cross-sectarian marriages are possible.
Iraqi women’s rights and civil society activists consider this proposal to fundamentally question the basis of women’s legal rights in Iraq along conservative and sectarian lines. Activists from different platforms, like the Iraqi Women Network, Iraqi Women Journalist’s Forum and Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, have pushed for progressive reforms of the personal status code rather than its questioning along regressive lines. An international campaign — launched by academics, activists and individuals (including this author) — started a petition demanding the parliament speaker and Iraqi MPs reject these changes.
Challenging the personal status code, established in 1959, is not new in Iraq. Since 2003, Shiite Islamist political parties who came to power with the U.S.-led coalition forces have pushed for change several times. They presented different propositions — all of which introduce the possibility of a sectarian personal status code.
These proposals — all advocated by Shiite Islamist political parties — follow the principle on which the Iraqi political system has been based since the invasion and occupation: communal identity politics.
Read Full article on The Washington Post, by Zahra Ali, November 20, 2017.