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Women Weigh Up Charter

Some see oppression in the constitution’s pages while others glimpse opportunity.
By Yasin al-Rubai

Prominent Iraqi women appear split on the merits of the new constitution with some saying it is a step forward for them and other’s sure it will harm their rights.

Azhar al-Shekhli, the minister of women’s affairs, sits firmly in the pro-constitution camp, saying she’ll vote in favour of the charter on October 15 because it forbids gender discrimination, supports families and mandates a minimum 25 per cent quota for female representatives in the National Assembly.

Another supporter of the charter, Maryam al-Rayis from the United Iraqi Alliance Shia list, suggests that women’s concerns are overstated, "Frequent calls for women's rights create the feeling that they are oppressed, which I can't see."

She pointed out that the number of women in parliament has already surpassed the 25 per cent stipulated in the constitution.

Other prominent women, particularly secularists, have expressed concern at a provision in the draft document that says no law can contradict Islam. They fear this may hinder women’s rights, particularly in personal status matters such as marriage, divorce and alimony.

Some male politicians tend to agree with them. Rasim al-Awadi, a lawmaker with the Iraqi List alliance, believes women’s rights are moving backward in Iraq. "Women achieved more gains during the previous struggle under [under Saddam]," he said.

Chro Sabir, director of the Rasan women’s association in Sulaimaniyah, also believes that much of the constitution "reverses the progress achieved by women’s organisations”.

She hopes the Kurdish legislators drafting a charter for Iraq’s Kurdish territories at the parliament in Erbil will be more sympathetic to women.

“We hope that whatever could not be achieved in the Iraqi constitution can be achieved in the Kurdish constitution," she said.

However, others like Huda Falih al-Azawi, a 25-year-old media executive in Baghdad, are apathetic about the entire issue – reflecting the views of many Iraqis who are more concerned with having security and basic services like electricity than with a legal document.

"I don't know what the Iraqi constitution offers to women. I know nothing about the constitution,” she said. “I only care about my job and hope my motherland will be safe.

"It makes no difference for me if I vote yes or no."

Yasin al-RubaiI is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad. Talar Nadir, an IWPR trainee journalist in Sulaimaniyah, contributed to this report.

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