IRAQI CONSTITUTION 2005 - women's rightsInstitute for War and Peace ReportingIn the early days of this weblog I suggested the acid test of a progressive future for Iraq was the treatment of women. You did not have to be a genius to see many would expect women especially educated professionals such as doctors, lawyers and teachers to cover themselves by edict rather than choice.
Iraqi women were treated as equal even under Saddam - even to torture and death - but now slowly they are covering up through threat of violence and death.
Of course many Iraqi women have always worn the black cloak with face uncovered. Plenty of images from Iraq on TV show them in black from head to toe, though face exposed. You will note (I have many of my father's photographs from his trip to Kirkuk and beyond to show the Kurdish women did not hide their faces) that not all Iraqi covered themselves under religious edict or social tradition.
With the onset of the modern era, with the exponential rise in education in the late 40s and 50s, the massive primary and secondary school building programme and subsequently the colleges and universities created a rapidly expanding middle-class which more and more adopted western styles and fads. When I was in baghdad as a boy in the 50s, a teenage Iraqi from a reasonably affluent fanmily was indistinguishable from one in New York: their film and pop star heroes were American: Elvis was King in Baghdad when Jailhouse rock showed at the cinema half way down Rasheed Street!
The 2005 constitution according to the site above says that Islam is a fundamental source of legislation and that no law must contradict it. This is the catch-22 for women's rights in Iraq. In essence, because the Shia form 60% of the population Sharia law must predominate over (or never be superceeded by) state law, which is exactly what I said several years ago must not happen. For a state to be considered modern and progressive it must have a constitution which prevents religious laws having priority over laws made by men. This seems like it it is going to be impossible in Iraq from now on, unless laws are made which protect freedom of choice in matters of public appearance. It almost seems as if the 2005 Iraqi constitution is a predominantly political device to ensure the Shia majority have a major say in the future.
Sensible laws cannot be made to protect women's rights which would be recognised under international law with this proviso about Sharia. It seems to me like a recipe for federalism, where in the south this will operate while in Kudistan and possibly the centre and Sunni areas it will largely be ignored in favour of more equality laws.
Though Sharia is deemed to treat women equally to men this is patently not true in countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. A simple test - simpler than that of whether they will have to cover themselves in Iraq - is that of being allowed to drive. Currently - through force - more and more women in Iraq are both wearing head coverings or whole body coverings. And what are they doing as far as driving is concerned? It is almost certain that fear of being shot at or kidnapped has driven many former women drivers off the street. I do not know if middle- class professional women drove cars in Saddam's time, but they certainly worked in western clothes amongst men, such as architects on site. I have a photograph of a woman architect in The National Geographic magazine from the early 80s with her standing at a building site, to prove this was the case. It will not be happening now.
Michael Rubin, albeit of the American Enterprise Institute and edito of Middle east Quarterly, has a few salient points to make about the consitution in this essentially 'good news about Iraq = the U.S. has done a good job' piece:With Freedom Comes Politics
by Michael Rubin, Wall Street Journal, 18 October, 2005