Iraq: Protect Iraqi women's rights in the new Iraq Constitution

Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) strongly urges you to support Iraqi women's demands for a constitution that secures the rights and liberties of all Iraqi people and especially of Iraqi women.
IMMEDIATE action now will help prevent inevitable violations of rights. It is WLUML’s experience that once regressive texts are agreed, they are extremely difficult to reverse.

Several conflicting draft chapters of the proposed constitution have been circulated in Iraq in the past few weeks and no final language has been agreed upon. Changes can still be made before 15 August, the deadline for the National Assembly to approve the draft.

WLUML shares Iraqi women’s deep concern about the drafts released by the Constitutional Committee and their implications for women’s rights in Iraq. The proposed constitution is a major retreat from the gains achieved by Iraqi women over the past decades.

Most articles in the drafts circulated are vague and the various draft constitutions are self-contradictory.

Iraqi women’s groups are particularly concerned about the Chapter on Duties & Rights, in which Shariah is stated to be the main source of legislation. Drafts released acknowledge the equal rights of women with men in all fields. But this is also on the condition that this does not contradict with ‘the principles of Shariah’.

In WLUML’s experience, conditioning equal rights for women on such sweeping and undefined grounds will create huge problems for women, particularly obstructing their rights within the family. It is also WLUML’s experience that making religious principles the main source of law only leads to endless conflicts around which form or interpretation of Muslim laws should apply.

Another major concern of women’s groups is the article that requires court cases dealing with personal status matters (such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc.) to be judged according to the law practiced by the sect or religion of the parties.

This article is a return to ‘Resolution 137’ proposed on December 2003 by the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) that threatened to abolish Iraq's 1959 Personal Status Law, which was applied uniformly to all Iraqi Muslims and was considered one of the most progressive family laws in the Middle East.

Any proposal to replace Iraq's Personal Status Law for Muslims with ‘Shariah as interpreted by each sect’ will threaten the fabric of Iraqi society. It will establish sectarianism as an organizing principle of social and political life in Iraq, and will discourage marriage across boundaries of religion and sect. Couples who do cross these boundaries could find themselves caught in endless litigation and suffering if they take a case to court.

WLUML networkers know that when principles of religion are made the source of national law and the basis of family laws, this has two effects. Firstly, it gives social and political power to those who monopolise the interpretation of religion. Secondly, in the resulting confusion of conflicting interpretations, the most marginalized groups including women and minorities are unable to secure their rights.

Iraqi women’s groups have pointed to additional problems with the current drafts. The Constitutional Committee is debating whether to drop or phase out a measure enshrined in the Interim Constitution requiring that women make up at least a quarter of parliament.

Also, various drafts also indicate that rather than strengthening Iraq’s international obligations there will be a regression from international treaties already signed or ratified.

Women’s groups are lobbying the Iraqi National Assembly and members of the Constitutional Committee to ensure their rights in the future constitution in Iraq. Several meetings and conferences have been organized the past few months to address these concerns.


In solidarity,

Women Living Under Muslim Laws
International Coordination Office

1. Iraqi Women Respond

The several draft chapters of the proposed constitution that have been circulated in Iraq in the past few weeks has ignited outrage among women’s groups. There have been several demonstrations organized by women in Iraq against what have been proposed. Several women and men showed up in the fiery heat to hand out fliers and wave white banners in a throng of traffic. "We want to be equal to everybody - we want human rights for everybody," read one slogan.

"We want a guarantee of women's rights in the new constitution," said Hannah Edwar, the head of the Iraqi Women’s Network and an organizer of one of the protests. "We're going to meet with the constitutional committee and make our thoughts known."

The Iraqi Women’s Movement, composed of the Iraqi Women’s Network and the Women’s Leadership Institute, has emphasized that it's been unprecedented to hurry the writing of such an important and dangerous document that will determine the future of the Iraqis, without involving the Iraqi civil society in the preparation and writing process.

Lately, the Iraqi Women’s Movement has prepared a memorandum that stated their demands on the following main points:
  • For the constitution to recognize women's human rights as mother, worker and citizen.
  • For the constitution to include provisions that prevents all kinds of violence and discrimination against women.
  • For the constitution to ensure the quota of not less than 40 percent for women in all decision making positions.
  • For the constitution to recognize the international conventions and documents to be the source for the Iraqi legislations and regulations.
  • Demanding a civic constitution that embodies the state of law, justice and equality.
  • Not to abolish the Iraqi personal status law, and not to replace it with a sectarian or communal alternative.
2. Please see WLUML previous Alert for Action regarding resolution 137 at:
If implemented, the new provisions could bring sweeping and negative changes in areas such as age of marriage, polygyny, a woman's right to marry without her guardian's permission, the reintroduction of unilateral and extra-judicial repudiation (talaq), women's access to divorce, women's custody rights, and a wife's right to work, etc.

The proposed articles would introduce legal chaos. There would be conflicting decisions since there are differences between and even within the various sects of Islam regarding family law matters. The rules governing spouses from different sects and religions would be uncertain. Potentially massive litigation could arise as parties seek to have old cases re-opened. In the experience of WLUML, such situations of confusion usually work against women's rights and interests. It is unclear how these new provisions would be implemented. If there is any lack of clarity regarding the ‘principles of Shariah’, Muslim clerical councils and other non-judicial bodies could overrule decisions by the Iraqi courts.

For more information please visit the following links:[157]=x-157-287344[157]=x-157-277304