Iraqi women urge U.S. to protect their rights

Iraqi women urge U.S. to protect their rights
By Sharon Behn
August 5, 2005

Iraqi women took their fight for equal rights to American lawmakers
yesterday, urging them to use their influence to see that women's rights are
protected in the new constitution.
With just 10 days until delegates in Baghdad present the final draft of
Iraq's basic law, it is still not clear how large a role will be given to
Islamic Shariah law, which traditionally subordinates women to men.
"The [American] men and women, the brave people who went there to free
[Iraqis] from Saddam [Hussein], they didn't free them to put them under
another dictatorship; that is very clear to all of us," said Basma Fakri,
president of the Women's Alliance for a Democratic Iraq.
During an appearance in Washington yesterday, she said it was entirely
appropriate for President Bush, the Senate and House to let Iraq's
constitutional negotiators know "that Iraq should be free."
"That was the mission. We don't want to go back in time, we don't want
to create another dictatorship. That should be clear and loud to the Iraqi
government and to the constitutional committee," she said.
The appeal has had some success in Washington, where the House passed a
resolution last week that "strongly encourages Iraq's Transitional National
Assembly to adopt a constitution that grants women equal rights under the
law and to work to protect such rights."
The resolution also "pledges to support the efforts of Iraqi women to
fully participate in a democratic Iraq."
However, with Congress in recess during the crucial last two weeks of
the constitution-writing process, little more pressure is likely. Calls to
several congressional offices yesterday found mainly staffers who were
unwilling or unable to comment on the issue.
One exception was the office of Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican.
Spokesman Dan Scandling said Mr. Wolf sent a letter to the Bush
administration Wednesday night "expressing concern about religious freedoms
and other potential rights' erosion" in Iraq.
Early drafts of the new Iraqi constitution said Shariah law, which
sharply limits women's rights to own and inherit property among other
things, should be the main source of all law in Iraq. The drafts also
declared that women will hold at least 25 percent of legislative seats only
in the first two terms.
A draft that became public on Wednesday amended the key clause to say
that Islam would be "one of the main sources" of the law. The Iraqi women
welcomed the change but said continued pressure was needed.
The women also are demanding that all international treaties regarding
human rights and women's rights be honored in the constitution, and that
guarantees of female representation in the parliament and government be made

"The draft constitution as we have seen is a cause for alarm and a call for
action," Miss Fakri said.
Tanya Gilly-Khailany, representing the Foundation for the Defense of
Democracies, said women's rights activists have presented their case to U.S.
officials, the United Nations, British Foreign Minister Jack Straw and the
European Union.
Zainab al-Suwaij, executive director of the American Islamic Congress,
rejected arguments put forward by officials of Iraq's dominant Shi'ite
coalition that Iraq's culture was not ready to go beyond Shariah law.
"Iraq has a very high population of educated people and they are all
aware of women's rights, and we are not asking for anything beyond the norm
of our culture and religion," she said.
Women had many rights in the early years of Saddam Hussein's rule and
were active in the workplace, but these rights steadily deteriorated toward
the end of his dictatorship as he tried to court Islamic support.
The insurgency, which has targeted all sectors of Iraq's society, also
has hit women hard, killing professional women and threatening those not
wearing Islamic head coverings. Christian women regularly wear scarves and
long skirts to avoid being targeted on the streets.
. Julia Gimadyeva contributed to this report.