Women’s rights are under threat in Iraq

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. The central government is dominated by Shiite Islamist conservative parties. And armed sectarian and religious groups have ruled in Iraq since 2003. 

In such an environment of generalized sectarian violence — and marked by the dominance of sectarian and religious conservative forces — the existing personal status code is inclusive, uniting Sunnis and Shiites under one legal framework and granting women essential rights, like the right to divorce in cases of domestic violence and abuse.

Sectarian politics played upon women’s rights 

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.  

This Iraqi political system since 2003 has institutionalized ethno-sectarianism through the introduction of a system based on communal quota. Each “community”— Arab, Kurd, Sunni, Shiites, etc.— has its share of power. 

The debaathification campaign, led by the U.S. forces during the first years of the occupation, disbanded the army and expelled from the state’s institutions former members of the Baath Party, provoking a collapse of the state stripped from its experienced and skilled agents. 

The bloody repression of the forces opposing the invasion and occupation and the marginalization of the Sunni population by the U.S. administration and new Iraqi political leadership have exacerbated sectarian tensions. 

All of this created a context of social, ethnic and sectarian tensions in the country — plunging it into a civil war. In proposing a specific law for Shiite Muslims, the Shiite Islamist political elite seeks to assert its own identity on Iraqis, rather than an inclusive version of Iraq’s identity. 

Proposing to adopt a sectarian system breaks with the political legacy that the Iraqi personal status code is meant to represent. Originally championed by prominent feminists and the anti-imperialist, secular left, they fought for its establishment in 1959 to protect women’s rights outside of sectarian divides. 

As such, the code is a legacy of the women’s movement. One of its figures — who was also the first Iraqi (and Arab) cabinet minister — Naziha al-Dulaimi participated to its writing. It was the symbol of the unity of Muslim Sunnis and Shiites gathered under one law, and it openly questioned the traditionalist and conservative political elite put in power by the British occupation. 

Social, sectarian and gender equality 

Significantly, all these law propositions have been very unpopular among Iraqis, Sunnis and Shiites alike. Most Shiite clerics also opposed it. In 2015, a protest movement began against the post-2003 political system, alleging corruption and nepotism by the country’s new political elite. 

Demonstrators demanded a state treating it citizens equally, instead of a political system based on ethnic, religious and sectarian identity. They denounce the post-2003 regime for its corruption, nepotism and mismanagement of the country. 

More generally, women’s rights and civil society activists have been at the forefront of mobilizations for a welfare system, advocating for functioning state institutions and services — like access to electricity, running water, housing and employment. 

Activists consider that the post-2003 regime, its sectarian functioning and the corruption and nepotism of its new political leadership have resulted in widespread impoverishment and generalized violence. 

For women’s rights activists in Iraq, the proliferation of child marriage is a consequence of the generalized impoverishment, insecurity and the absence of functioning state’s institutions. The proposed reform would just legitimate this already widespread practice. 

Since 2003, Iraqi women’s rights activists have been caught between fighting to preserve their existing rights — under threat from conservative social forces — and for their essential rights to security and dignity — under siege from the violent social, political and ethno-sectarian crisis provoked by the invasion and occupation. 

Changing the personal status code in this way would bring Iraq’s legal environment back to the period when the country was still colonized by the British Empire, during which no law governed Iraqis in personal matters other than religious and tribal courts. 

That would break the legacy of the progressive political forces that established the personal status code — and above all — the legacy of the women’s movement that fought for these rights for all Iraqis, regardless of religious sect. 

Zahra Ali is an assistant professor of sociology at Rutgers University. Her book “Women and Gender in Iraq: between Nation-building and Fragmentation” will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2018.


A proposal that would reduce a girl’s marriageable age to puberty, introduce marital rape by declining sex to a husband, eliminate a womans inheritance rights and child custody decisions passed its first reading in the Iraqi Parliament on October 30. 

The bill still requires a second reading to become law. In response, the Iraqi Democratic Current organised a protest at Prescott Promenade Park at 201 E. Main Street in El Cajon on Friday, November 17th. 

“The newly proposed law encourages the marriage of minors and reminds us most of the way that the Islamic State behaved with young girls, how the organization forced them to marry group members when they were in control in Mosul and Raqqa,” said Iraqi member of Parliament Rizan al-Sheik Daleer. 

The changes are to Law Number 188 of 1959 the Iraqi Women Personal Status Law, and if passed by the Iraqi parliament would replace civil courts with sectarian Sunni or Shiite courts. “The organization of these issues should be the responsibility of the courts and not the executive branch of Sunni or Shiite religious orders,” Iraqi member of Parliament Shuruq al-Abaji told NIQASH. 

Al-Abaji believes that the revision to the personal status law faces several obstacles besides simply parliamentary approval. First, Article 41 of the Iraqi Constitution, which allows Iraqis to select their own personal status, would have to be changed. Second, it violates the separation of powers and human rights and international laws on women’s rights. 

“We call on everyone to stand against the proposed amendments that backward minds intend to fulfill, to satisfy their sick desires in raping children, depriving women of custody of their children and their right to inheritance and return them to the time of servitude,” said Nital Meshkoor, of the Iraqi Women’s League and Iraqi Democratic Current. 

By Jonathan Goetz

Leave No One Behind - End Violence against Women and Girls

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, a global campaign spanning from 25 November through 10 December, is taking place this year against the backdrop of an unprecedented global outcry. 

Millions have rallied behind the hashtag #MeToo and other campaigns, exposing the sheer magnitude of sexual harassment and other forms of violence that women everywhere suffer, every day. Breaking the silence is the first step to transforming the culture of gender-based violence. 

At the heart of this year’s theme, “Leave No One Behind – End Violence against Women”, for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November) and UNiTE Campaign’s observance of the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence against Women (25 November – 10 December), is the imperative need to support those who are particularly vulnerable. 

The UNiTE Campaign is calling on everyone to join the movement to end violence against women, using the colour orange to make your action visible. One in three women and girls experience violence in their lifetime—that is one too many. 

It happens in every country and every society. It happens at home, in schools, on the streets, at work, on the internet and in refugee camps. It happens during war, and even in the absence of war. Too often, it is normalized and goes unpunished. 

No matter where violence against women happens, what form it takes, and whom it impacts, it must be stopped. The promise of the Sustainable Development Goals—to leave no one behind—cannot be fulfilled without ending violence against women.

For further information please check out the UN Women's website and please let us know if you are organising any event in support.

#UKinIraq calls on Parliament to reject amendments to Personal Status Law

The UK is calling on Iraqi parliamentarians to reject proposed changes to the Personal Status law that would have the effect of reducing the legal marriage age in Iraq to nine years old. 

The draft amendments are due to be discussed by Parliament in the coming weeks. 

If the amendments are approved, religious groups in Iraq would be able to determine their own legal parameters for marriage, divorce, and other family issues. 

Under current Iraqi law the legal age for marriage is eighteen years old, or fifteen years old with the consent of parents or guardians. 

On 14 November a delegation from the British Embassy set out UK concerns at a roundtable discussion on the Personal Status Law hosted by the Iraqi Bar Association. 

The event was attended by parliamentarians from a cross-section of parties including State of Law, Goran and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, as well as representatives from government, NGOs, media and the international community. 

A spokesperson for the British Embassy in Baghdad said: 

“Allowing different groups to legislate according to their own jurisprudence would effectively reduce the marriage age for some girls in Iraq to nine years old. This would be a backward step for the rights of women and girls. 

It would damage both national prosperity – because women’s social, educational and economic development is a proven factor in driving forward national development – and risk exacerbating sectarian divisions. The UK therefore calls on Parliament to reject these amendments.”

Iraqi Islamists MPs' proposal would allow child marriages

Islamist parties in the Iraqi parliament are pushing an amendment to the personal status law that would allow men to marry girls as young as 9. Human rights activists decried the proposal, which would transfer civil matters to the jurisdiction of clerics. 

National Iraqi Alliance parliament member Hamed al-Khodari submitted the amendment bill Nov. 2. A more extreme version of the proposal was withdrawn in 2014 because of public pressure, and public anger is even more intense this time. 

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) voiced its concerns and encouraged "widening the scope of consultations about the amendment … to ensure the respect and protection of women's rights." 

During a Nov. 9 briefing, US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert condemned the proposal. "We are completely against and oppose the idea of children marrying adults," she said. 

"And let's remember, it was not that long ago that we called out the depravity of [the Islamic State] for taking child prisoners, child brides, and the sort. Some of this will be an internal Iraqi matter, but we remain firmly opposed to the idea that any adult would attempt to marry a child in that fashion." 

The proposed amendment basically shakes the foundations of the old law. The bill indicates that when issuing decisions on personal status issues, the court should follow the rulings of religious scholars for Sunni or Shiite sects, depending on the husband's faith. 

The Scholars' Congregation at the Shiite Endowment Diwan undertakes answering the court's questions per the common Shiite jurisprudence. In its absence, the Supreme Religious Authority in Najaf is consulted. 

The Scholars' Fatwa Council commits to answering the court based on common Sunni jurisprudence. Critics say the proposed amendment would breach the constitution's principles of separation of powers and judicial independence. 

The amendment would also contradict Article 14 of the constitution, which says all Iraqis are equal before the law, without any discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, origin, color, religion, sect, belief, opinion or economic or social status. 

The proposed legislation also contradicts recommendations of a committee charged with ensuring the application of a UN international treaty known as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which was adopted in 1979. 

Finally, critics say the proposal would violate UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and the national plan to implement the resolution, which requires all discriminatory legislation against women to be amended. 

However, Mohamad al-Massoudi, leader of the ruling National Iraqi Alliance party, is optimistic the bill will be approved. "Only some secular parties in the Iraqi parliament oppose the personal status amendment bill," he told Al-Monitor. 

"The bill will be passed this electoral session, or the next at most, because it is one of the laws whose legislation was stipulated by the constitution." Pointing to inconsistencies in the constitution, he said, 

"No law can stop a Sharia principle, and the Iraqi Constitution forbade the legislation of any text that contradicts Islamic Sharia." Despite the civil opposition and the UNAMI, which have called for further consultations, the Islamic current seems bent on moving forward with the amendment. 

It will try to implement Sharia as long as the Iraqi Constitution continues to allow for a new personal status law. The constitution, which has many contradictory articles, would have to be amended. In other words, the amendment bill is the most recent step in an apparently endless battle between Islamizing the Iraqi state and secularizing it. 

For example, the Iraqi Governing Council issued a draft law in 2003 citing constitutional articles in an attempt to make Salafi regressive amendments. The 2003 decision stated the need to implement Islamic Sharia provisions in matters of marriage, engagement, marriage contracts, eligibility, proof of marriage and prohibitions and other areas.  

Massoudi said the current proposal "has many benefits." He said, "It gives women and families Islamic rights and grants each individual the freedom to choose the religious provisions in their sect. The bill also limits the number of marriages [that have been] happening outside courts for years." 

Regarding the marriage of minors, Massoudi said, "Some Muslim sects have allowed such marriages." 

Zikra Sarsam, a civil activist and vice president of the nongovernmental organization Burj Babel for Media Development, said civil parties objecting to the amendment bill are banking on public pressure and the stance of the supreme Shiite authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who was against the proposal that was withdrawn in 2014. 

Sarsam told Al-Monitor, "During the next few days, massive protests will take to the streets to demand the withdrawal of the amendment bill from parliament. We will also try to show Sistani's stance on the matter." 

Sarsam added, "The amendment bill aims at enslaving Iraqi women and taking the country back to a primitive era. It contains constitutional and legal violations, mainly discriminating against Iraqis based on sect or belief, establishing a religious state and fighting the civil current." 

Opponents say Islamist parties will probably withdraw the personal status amendment bill, as they did before, due to public pressure and perhaps following a Sistani intervention. 

Still, the early electoral propaganda has earned these parties some gains, as they succeeded in addressing their public base before the elections set for spring. But unless the religious law is passed or the constitution is permanently amended, the battle will extend to the next electoral session. 

Omar Sattar is an Iraqi journalist and author specializing in political affairs. He has worked for local and Arab media outlets and holds a bachelor’s degree in political science.

Outcry in Iraq over proposals to legalise marriage for girls as young as 9

As a young girl she would talk to her doll about the troubles and miseries she felt. She remembers not knowing "what marriage was or any of its responsibilities”. Now 30 years old, the Iraqi woman recalls how her childhood was taken away from her after she was forced to marry at the age of 12. 

“They punished me because I had a doll. She was the only one that listened to me at a time when no one listened,” the unidentified woman tells Unicef in a video released this month. She rejected the man she was married to “because it was forced, I hadn’t hit puberty yet”. 

With Iraq torn apart by conflict and economic hardship and the future uncertain for many Iraqis, early marriages have become more common. Now, a draft law put forward by Iraqi lawmakers threatens to put many more young girls at risk of forced and early marriage, and make them vulnerable to sexual abuse. 

The proposed amendments to Iraq's personal status law, which were introduced by the council of representatives on November 1, would codify marriage, divorce, inheritance and child custody procedures under religious law, allowing girls as young as nine to wed. The move has sparked outrage from women's rights groups. 

“The proposed bill is wrong in so many ways, it’s a blow on women’s rights and to society," Samira Talal, an Iraqi women’s rights activist, said. "This was done to marginalise societal problems that we are encountering on a daily basis to divert our attention from what is really going on.” 

Iraq’s current personal status law, introduced in 1959, is considered to be one of the most protective of women’s rights in the region. It is applied to all Iraqis regardless of their religious beliefs and sets the legal age of marriage at 18. In "urgent" cases, however, a judge is allowed to permit girls as young as 15 to marry.  

The current personal status law bans forced marriages and restricts polygamy. Under the new amendments, however, Shiite girls would be allowed to marry from the age of nine in line with the teachings of the Jaafari school of Shiite religious jurisprudence. 

The school was established by the sixth Shiite imam, Jaafar Al Sadiq. Belikis Wille, Iraq and Qatar researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that the mooted changes — which were first proposed in an earlier, more extreme bill introduced in 2014 — were "catastrophic". 

“The fact that this is not the first time the proposal was introduced is deeply disturbing,” Ms Wille added. “It’s a step backwards for Iraq, a country where there are many initiatives to improve women’s rights. Now [after ISIL’s defeat] is the time to assert more clearly that everyone in Iraq has equal rights.” 

Ms Wille confirmed that HRW is studying the draft law and will be issuing a statement about how far-reaching it could be. Meanwhile, the United Nations assistance mission in Iraq (Unami) has urged that women’s rights be fully recognised and protected. 

“Women and girls in Iraq have suffered violations of their basic human rights and violence in armed conflict, in particular under ISIL’s rule,” Unami said. 

Jan Kubis, the special representative of the secretary general for Iraq, called upon Iraq's council of representatives "to seize this opportunity of the process to amend the personal status law, repeatedly criticised by the United Nations treaty bodies, and conduct a wider consultation on the draft amendments in a participatory manner to recommit to and ensure the full respect, protection and fulfilment of women and girls’ rights in Iraq in relation to matrimonial and other matters". 

On November 1, the council of representatives voted in principle to approve the proposed bill which was put forward by 40 members of parliament. It now needs the support of 165 politicians, more than half of the body's 328 representatives, to become law. 

But the draft law is not yet on the parliamentary agenda and it not clear when a vote on it will be held. In the meantime, opponents of the bill are making their voices heard. Public demonstrations were held in Baghdad last weekend by women’s rights and civil society groups. 

“It’s a form of societal abnormality that we cannot stand for, it’s an outrage," said Ms Talal. 

by Mina Aldroubi

Parliament committee to rethink bill allowing 9-year-old girls to marry

An Iraqi parliamentary committee has been reported to have halted a vote on a bill, allowing girls as young as nine years to marry, instead revising the law after an outcry from women rights groups’. 

SNG website quoted Lama al-Halfi, chairman of the Iraqi parliament’s women affairs committee, saying in a press statement on Wednesday, that the “personal status” law had been withdrawn from voting on and returned to the committee for further deliberation with the endowments committee. 

“This (draft) law permits girls between eight and nine to get married, while the Iraqi law set in 1959 sets a girl’s maturity age between 15 and 16,” Halfi said, asking to adopt that age range in the new amendments. 

The Iraqi parliament had given an initial approval early this month of the draft amendments to the marriage age. Womens rights groups had staged demonstrations against the law earlier this week, calling it a setback on women rights’. 

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq had also asked for wider consultations over the bill. 

“Women and girls in Iraq have suffered violations of their basic human rights and violence in armed conflict, in particular under the terrorist group Daesh. They aspire that the realization of their rights should be prioritized with a view to achieving equality with men,” the mission said. 

The legal marriage age in Iraq is 18, but the existing personal status law gives judges the power to sanction marriage for girls as young as 15 in “urgent” cases. 

by Mohamed Mostafa

Australia's Iraqi Community Protest Proposed Law

In Australia, a vigil organised by the Iraqi Democratic Current gathered outside of the Iraqi Embassy, in protest to the proposed changes in Iraqi law, which if passed by the Parliament, would see the age of marriage lowered from 18 to 9 years of age. 

Whilst at the Embassy, a petition and letter from the Iraqi community in Australia, was also given to Embassy staff, which stated the community's objections to the plans of the Parliament, to lower the age of marriage. 

Iraqi Australians are a community whose population is estimated to be as high as 80,000 people. Australia's Iraqi community includes Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Armenians, Mandeans, Turkmens and Jews.


Democracy Vs ISIS in Iraq's legal bid for child marriage

Iraq first introduced its Personal Status Law in 1959, when under the Government of Abdul Karim Qassim (1958-1963), it was made law, that a woman was allowed to marry at the age of 18 years. 

Throughout the rule of Saddam Hussain (1979-2003), the legal age of marriage remained at age 18, despite his other policies, which have been descried as "oppressive" to women. 

Under the rule of the Islamic State (2014-2017), in Iraq reports have emerged of girls as young as 9, being forced to marry Islamic State fighters of various nationalities.Under the rule of Democracy in Iraq (2003-present) the Parliament is wanting to revise the law, to lower the age of marriage from 18 down to 9. 

If Iraq makes these changes in its law, this will mean that Iraqi Democracy will share the same legal age for marriage, as the terrorist organisation known as the Islamic State.

Diwaniya’s Amateur Inventor Saves Lives With Remote Control For Farmers

He never finished high school but Diwaniyah local, Qassim Hussein Ali al-Hilali, has put his skills at electrical engineering to good use. He has invented a way to remotely control heavy farm equipment, like water pumps, at a distance, using an application on a smart phone. 

Al-Hilali, 40, has been fooling around with electrical appliances ever since he was a child. He tours the city’s markets collecting old electrical equipment and other associated trash and then takes it home to realize his ideas. 

He’s made his own electric cranes and other models as well as simple games, and is working on a homemade remote control for opening car doors. But it is his latest invention, the remote control for farm equipment, that may have changed his life the most. 

Users download a simple app onto their Android -operating-system smart phones and sign in using their own phone number or email address. This provides security for the app so that nobody else can start, for example, operating private machinery. 

The new remote control is especially helpful when it comes to water management. “One person can do the job of seven,” al-Hilali boasts. It means that farmers, who often have to travel long distances to operate their water pumps when the power is on, can simply turn the equipment on with their phones. 

It helps conserve electricity and ensures that equipment is turned on while the power is running – Iraq still regularly suffers from outages, especially in rural areas. And there are other reasons to use a remote like this. 

“High humidity and bad wiring has caused a lot of electric shocks,” Hussein Ali, a farmer in the Saniyah sub district of Diwaniya, explains. “Last year, I lost my nephew when he started a water pump and got an electric shock.” 

Most farmers here do have smart phones, Ali told NIQASH, so they’re eager to give al-Hilali’s invention a try. “It is inexpensive in terms of both effort and money. And I don’t need to worry about my family or be near the water pump myself. I can operate it myself, just lying in bed,” he says. 

The head of the inventors’ forum in Diwaniya, Rami Hassan al-Janabi, says he thinks al-Hilali should patent his invention. The same kinds of things do exist elsewhere but there could be subtle differences. 

And most importantly, it would allow al-Hilali to potentially sell the invention to the government and raise awareness of the remote control. Al-Janabi adds that he would like to see more appreciation for the inventors of Diwaniya. 

As for al-Hilali, he is already planning his next remote control: He’d like to move into the area of smart homes, where houses are kept secure by a mobile device. 

by Manar al-Zubaidi


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