Iraqi women protest proposed constitution

Iraqi women staged a sit-in in downtown Baghdad on July 19 to protest the erosion of women's rights in the new Iraqi constitution, which is currently under construction. This demonstration barely registered in the international press, but the Guardian ran a short article about it:

"Despite the appalling security situation in Iraq (two Sunni members of the committee who are drafting the constitution were gunned down last week), thousands of brave Iraqi women, from different governorates, risked their lives last Tuesday when they congregated in Baghdad's Al-Firdaws Square to protest against their exclusion in the draft constitution. The international press, busy reporting the continuing violence of the insurgency, failed to cover this event and it got little publicity within Iraq."

Many rights guaranteed by the provisional constitution (the Transitional Administrative Law, or "Tal," adopted in March, 2004) are not explicit in this, permanent, version, making Iraqi feminists nervous about what has been described as the "Talibanization" of occupied Iraq. Feminists -- who organized massive demonstrations throughout Iraq -- succeeded in blocking the passage of resolution 137 as part of the "Tal," a set of rules which has been described as " in effect allowing the total subordination of women to men within their families, in the community and in political life" (Guardian). But this success was short-lived: Resolution 137 has reappeared as Article 14 in the current draft of the constitution, and, with pressure from the U.S. administration to ratify the constitution by August 15, will likely pass -- unless Iraqi feminists are able to mobilize mass feminist opposition.

According to a statement made by UNIFEM, "[o]f 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" (paraphrased by Reuters). U.S.-based women's rights NGO MADRE claims that 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." Specifically, MADRE warns that

"if this draft is agreed upon, it could give self-appointed religious clerics the authority to inflict grave human rights violations on Iraqi women, including denial of the rights to freedom of movement and travel, property inheritance, and custody of their children. In the worst instance, forced early marriage, polygamy, compulsory religious dress, wife beating, execution by stoning as punishment for female adultery, and public flogging of women for disobeying religious rules could all be sanctioned if the language in this draft is upheld" ("MADRE Opposes Abolition of Iraqi Women's Human Rights in Draft Constitution," July 20).

MADRE's sister organization in Iraq is the Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI). Yanar Mohammad of OWFI argues that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq is responsible for the rise of religious sectarianism in that country, which has manifested itself in the ways in which the new, reactionary constitution departs from minimal provisions for women's equality in the secular 1959 constitution. Stimulating sectarianism and "balkanization" have served as strategies to entrench the occupation and diffuse the resistance:

"Since the beginning of the occupation, the US administration has recognized Iraqis according to their ethnic/nationalist and religious identities. This predetermined polarization of the society around its most reactionary forces has resulted with a most lethal weapon which is a government of division and inequality - a potential timed bomb for a civil war that has already started. Furthermore, the only mutual agenda for the parties in power is one of oppression, bigotry and misogyny in addition to representing the US occupation interests" ("Condemn a constitution of de-humanizing women")

Azar Majedi, writing in a special English-language issue of the Farsi socialist feminist journal Medusa, affiliated with the Worker's Communist Party of Iran, argues that throughout the Middle East, the rise of contemporary forms of political Islam is directly related to U.S. imperialism in the region:

"[i]n its present form and shape, political Islam, as a powerful force in the mainstream of political conflicts in the Middle East, is a product of the West and in particular the USA. For twenty odd years, the USA and the West created and reared political Islam as a weapon in the Cold War and against the rise of communism and the Left in the region. In 1978 they foisted the Islamic Republic onto the people of Iran in order to head off the "threat" of the Left's victory in the revolution. In the war against the Soviet Union, they let loose first the Mujahedin and then the Taliban on the people of Afghanistan. During this time, against the people's struggle for freedom and secularism, they have defended the religious and Islamic movements in the region, backed the corrupt and dictator Islamic states and supported large and small Sheikhdoms. These creatures are products of the West" ("Sexual Apartheid is a Product of Political Islam: Let's Rise Against It").

If we needed yet another example of how the U.S. is concretely supporting the rise of religious fundamentalism as a way of opposing peoples' struggle for radical self-determination, the institutional and material assault on women's rights in Iraq provides us with one. It's hardly news that U.S. not only supports, but produces fundamentalist politics when and where fundamentalist repression is an expedient means to achieving political and economic control of an invaded or occupied nation. But it stands to be repeated: the dilemma between opposing U.S. imperialism and opposing misogynist Islamic fundamentalism is a false one, quite simply because the latter is an organ of U.S. imperialism. The U.S. administration's dissociation from political Islam is part of its attempt to, on the one hand present the so-called "moderate" provisional government and the new constitution as expressions of democracy indigenous to Iraq, and on the other hand, to present the Iraqi resistance as fundamentalist and therefore anti-democratic. The constitution, and particularly Article 14, gives lie to both of these constructions.

Therefore, the U.S.-backed institutionalization of Shari'a law in the Iraqi constitution, and particularly Article 14, should be seen in the context of this strategy of repression in Iraq. Women comprise about 60% of the Iraqi population, and, as members of civil society and as members of the Iraqi resistance have been the most vocal opponents of the U.S.-occupation of Iraq. A blanket law that dominates and silences all women would obviously generates an atmosphere of insecurity and fear. This is clearly an attempt to expel and marginalize dissident and resistant women from the public sphere, to curtail the growing feminist movement in Iraq, which has been a political priority Bush regime in its "spheres of influence" in other parts of the world and domestically.

MADRE, in solidarity with OWFI is urging Americans to circulate its open letter to the American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, which demands that Khalilzad "stand[s] in support of Iraqi women who are calling on the United States to meet its legal obligations under the Hague Convention, the Fourth Geneva Convention, and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 to uphold the internationally recognized rights of Iraqi women under US occupation." The limitations of this approach are obvious; but it is one part of an international mobilization of feminist support for Iraqi women -- long overdue, and profoundly needed.


Blogger JusticeGirl said...

Truly enjoyed reading your blog! Your voice for women and for human rights in general is well-received!

1:09 PM  
Blogger a.c. said...

thanks! that's very kind of you to say.

2:33 PM  

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