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IRAQ: women alarmed at prospect of rights erosion, UNIFEM says

DUBAI, 24 Jul 2005 (IRIN) - Iraqi women are extremely concerned that the national assembly committee drafting the country's new constitution is curbing women's rights, established under the interim constitution and prior national laws, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) reported on Friday.

"As the committee continues in its drafting process, women are becoming increasingly alarmed at what they see as a curtailing of their rights," UNIFEM said in a press statement.

Of particular concern to Iraqi women activists and civil society groups was a chapter of the constitution on duties and rights, which now refers to Shari'ah (Islamic law) as the "main source" for legislation in the new constitution, the UN body said.

In the earlier interim constitution, Shari'ah was referred to as an important source of legislation, rather than the main source.

A draft of the constitution, released to the press two weeks ago by a member of one of the sub-committees in the drafting process, also alarmed women's groups because of weaker provisions on women's representation in decision-making bodies, on men and women's equality under law and international treaties, and also because of an apparent threat to Iraq's long-standing and progressive Personal Status Law governing family matters.

In the draft, the clause requiring that women make up 25 percent of all decision-making bodies would only be followed the next two elections and could then be removed altogether, UNIFEM noted.

Meanwhile, issues such as marriage, divorce and inheritance would be judged according to the law as practised by a family's own sect or religion, rather than the Personal Status Law, it added.

The current draft of the constitution "subordinates guarantees of women's human rights and international law to religious Shari'ah law and replaces one of the Middle East's most progressive personal status laws with arbitrary interpretations of religious law", according to the US-based international women's human rights organisation MADRE.

If the national assembly approves such a constitution, it said, "it could give self-appointed religious clerics the authority to inflict grave human rights violations on Iraqi women" in relation to freedom of movement, travel, property inheritance and custody of their children. Iraq, which had been overwhelmingly secular until the 1990s, was in danger of being "catapulted towards theocratic rule", the group warned last week.

Iraqi women staged a "sit-in" demonstration in a large tent in Baghdad's Firdaws Square last Tuesday against the draft constitution in circulation, and against a drafting process that they say marginalises women and civil society.

"Despite the fiery heat and the deteriorating security situation," Hanaa Edwar, a prominent activist from the Iraqi Al-Amal association, said in a statement released by UNIFEM, "brave women from different governorates have taken the initiative to raise their voices demanding to ensure women's rights and equality in the constitution and protesting against the attempt to marginalise the role of women and their human rights, as well as the role of civil society organisations".

Iraqi women's organisations recently released a joint memorandum demanding that the new Iraqi constitution must:

Recognise women's human rights as mothers, workers and citizens and prevent all kind of violence and discrimination against women.

It also demands that the constitution ensures the quota of not less than 40 percent for women in all decision-making positions, and recognises international conventions and documents signed by Iraq as the source for Iraqi legislation and regulations.

On the same day as the sit-in, UNIFEM and the United Nations

Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) organised for a group of about 30 women to meet with members of the drafting su-bcommittee of the Chapter on Duties and Rights to articulate their concerns.

The meeting ended abruptly because of news of the assassination of two Sunni members of the drafting committee, but another is planned.

"Quick international actions" are needed to lobby the national assembly and the constitutional committee in support of Iraqi women "to ensure their equal rights, [which] are vital for building democracy and justice in Iraq," Edwar said.

The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2004

... Payvand News - 7/26/05 ... --

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