Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Many Women Unaware What Constitution Means

Key issues affecting the future role of women remain a mystery to many, while others just don’t care because daily life is so tough.
By Zaineb Naji

Suad Abdul-Hameed was confused when asked what she thought the word “constitution” meant. “Is it the place where [Prime Minister Ibrahim] al-Jaafari works?” she asked falteringly.

Abdul-Hameed is just one of many women in Iraq who say they don’t know anything about the constitution or what it might mean for their rights.

Iraqis are scheduled to vote on the constitution, which is being drawn up by the National Assembly, during an October referendum. If a two-thirds majority in three of Iraq’s 18 governorates disapproves of the constitution, the charter will be rejected.

Women’s rights activists have protested over proposed wording in the constitution that would give Islam a central role in the state as “the main source of legislation”. They think that the document should say that Islam is “a main source” of laws. That would give more leeway to those involved in drafting and implementing new laws to ensure that women are accorded the same rights as men.

But while the politically aware comb through the finer points of the constitution, large swathes of the population, particularly women, have missed out on the debate and have little idea what the point of it is.

“There’s a great lack of awareness among Iraqi women about what the constitution is, and what their rights are in it,” said Jinan Mubarak, head of the Iraqi Centre for Women’s Qualifications and Employment.

Her centre is currently holding workshops, involving participants from more than 20 government ministries, to make women more aware of their constitutional rights and encourage them to take part in the political process.

Civil servant Dhikra Ali recently attended one of the workshops, which she said was helpful and offered a “good introduction”.

“But I wonder whether there are actually people who will protect these issues?” she asked.

“We have to explain to women what their rights are and what their duties are in the state,” commented lawyer Ali Ahmed.

Others insist that whatever the final wording in the constitution, there are much more important issues for the government to concentrate on.

“I don’t know why there is this row over the constitution,” said Jinan Muhammed, a female civil servant. “The government should provide security, stability and public services instead of focusing on all this.”

Khawla Kamal, a primary school teacher, agreed, “It’s true that knowledge about the new constitution is a good thing - but what matters more is that the government should provide security, water and electricity.”

Zaineb Naji is an IWPR contributor in Iraq.