Saturday, August 06, 2005

Iraq Women's Rights: Answering Questions

Thank you to all that are reading and participating in bringing this problem to the forefront for our government to address.

I've read many comments and would like to address some questions regarding my original post Defending Freedom and Women's Rights.

First, the issue of Islam and Shari'ah in the constitution. To date, the constitution has been changed several times. Earlier on, there was specific reference that Islam would be THE basis of law. Approximately a week ago, that was negotiated down to "one of the sources of law" in which some were willing to allow local religious courts to participate in adjudicating certain criminal and civil issues (like divorce) as an elective choice outside of the civil process or, even worse, would result in every court applying a different rule of “Shari’ah” since Sunni’s have four jurisprudence (versions of Islam) and Shia have upwards of six.

While the changes to the draft are an improvement, it by no means guarantees that women in rural areas or areas controlled by religious parties will not be forced to go to these courts by their family and the area instead of seeking redress in civil courts. And it does not preclude “civil courts” applying shari’ah law. This is why this is important that it is civil, secular and equitable law that is the main source of law for all citizens.

Second, women's rights in Iraq, prior to the invasion, is an interesting history and mix of culture and modern civilization. Long before Saddam Hussein was in power, the women of Iraq, like many other countries in the ME, had a women's rights movement in the 1920's. By the 1950s women had become very much "westernized" in appearance and education and by 1958, civil laws protecting their rights were introduced and had been the law of the land long before Saddam came to power.

You may be surprised to know that a similar movement took place in such countries as Bahrain, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan and even Saudi Arabia. As another poster has pointed out, this backwards move towards Shari'ah is a very new phenomenon if you count the last two decades as "new". This is not an issue of the United States forcing it’s own concepts or cultural ideas on another culture. This is an issue of protecting existing cultural and social standards against other groups supported by extremist governments outside of Iraq and who are using their superior funding and positions to impose an idea that IS actually foreign to Iraqi society (barring traditionalists that have lived in the rural areas by these same rules).

I would like to add that the Islamists who oppose us see this as one of the worst things that western society has inflicted on their cultures. Frankly, I find that a good thing and a good reason to keep supporting these movements.

Even in Southern Iraq, towns like Basra were SECULAR until the groups supported by the Iranians moved in and have started to impose their views.

Third, on the Israel “discrimination” issue, the latest draft has removed any reference to Israel and has actually removed the reference of Iraq as an "Arab" state since there are so many ethnicities within it's borders. This is good because it separates them from their surrounding countries that are less amenable democracy.

What this tells me is that there are logical and reasonable people drawing up this constitution and capable of compromise.

Fourth: representation in the Iraqi government for women. The TAL (or Transitional Authority Law) gave women 25% representation in the assembly and government offices. In the January election, every third candidate on the party lists was a woman and there is slightly over 25% representation in the assembly. There are also women on the constitution committee. The committee tried to remove the representation clause, but it was put back on in the last two days. Which means women still have some rights to representation, but it does not guarantee them protection under civil laws, particularly when some of these women are members of SCIRI or DAWA or other non-secular parties.

Fifth, I have noted comments stating that it is not the job of the US to do this, but the Iraqi women themselves. These women want to fight for their own freedoms and rights. What they are asking for is monetary and material aid. They are organized and have many members. As I point out in my earlier post, the problem is that they have only been organized since after the invasion while SCIRI and other organizations have been organized and have funding from Iran that they cannot currently hope to match for media and other programs.

This is a simple request and our only need is to ask our government to assist them. The statements of support is a motivator

Sixth, some have noted that the Iraqi constitution will have an open period for amendment and they question whether this is imperative for the women to retain or obtain these rights now. Even if there is a two year window for amendments (two years? we can amend ours as necessary), that only gives them two years to fight if Shari'ah is implemented. In those two years, with Shari'ah as part or all of the law, men would effectively control the women, even if they were guaranteed some percentage of representation, they could be banned from public speaking or unable to meet with men in meetings because it would be unseemly and thus would impact their ability to participate in government and election activities.
This begins that ugly phrase "slippery slope" which means that men could enact laws under Shari'ah concepts to continuously limit women in every way, eventually leading to their exclusion from government, much less their rights as outlined in the UN Charter, singed and agreed upon by Iraq. Thus, two years to fight it and get "amendments" or doing it "afterwards" will be too late for these women.
Without a single, civil law structure that guarantees specific rights across the board, these women will be at the mercy of every regional goon squad (such as Basra) that pops up.

Seventh, I have noted comments that say the United States is in no position to support these women when there are issues of women’s rights and discrimination within the United States. As someone once said, if we waited for things to be perfect before we did anything, we would never get anything done. It is a bit of a fallacy to compare the state of women’s rights in the United States to those in Iraq or any other country where Shari’ah or other restrictive laws against women occur. In the court of law in the United States, a woman’s testimony is equal to a man’s and is only subject to veracity and intent. Under Shari’ah, a woman’s testimony maybe only deemed as “half” that of a man’s. In other words, for every one man testifying, two women would have to testify to equal his statements. Also, in the United States, women are not punishable by death or imprisonment for committing adultery, having premarital sex or for being raped. Under Shari’ah, all of these would occur. Women who are raped are considered to be complicit in their own assault.

One might believe that the conduct of trials for rape in the United States may seem to imply this, but it is simply not the same, nor a matter for snide relativist comments that denigrate the true horror of what these women must go through after such severe trauma. Under Shari’ah a woman can be killed by her family (honor killing) for these same acts outside of a court ruling and the perpetrator would not be punished for “protecting the family honor”. Some women are even forced to marry their attackers to preserve this “honor”. Can you imagine that in the United States?

In the United States, a woman can buy property, a car, have a bank account, drive where she wants, see who she wants, inherit all properties and wealth of a deceased spouse, have equal ability to get custody of her children, dress how she wants, worship as she wants and speak about whatever she cares to. Those are just a few of our rights that we have fought for in two centuries of existence.

Under Shari’ah, depending on the jurisprudence applied, she may have none of these things or some of them if accompanied by a male relative, co-signed by a male or if the spouse “allows” her to have custody of her children. She may even be killed for the clothes she wears, the people she sees, the lack of or apostasy of religion or for speaking. She certainly has no control of her effects, her body or her reproductive abilities (including birth control, much less our own controversial right to abortions).

There is simply no justifiable comparison of women’s rights in the US to those who live under Shari’ah and whatever lack we find in ours, it should not stop women from supporting one another, at home or around the world, in achieving freedom and basic equal rights under the law.

If there is one thing that has always amazed me, it is that women have such a hard time coming together and using our strengths, such as the sheer power of our numbers in free societies and tyrannies, to press for simple women’s rights around the globe and that it is women who are most likely to hamper our own growth. Surely that is something that must cause glee in the hearts of oppressive governments in countries far and wide.

This is why I urge everyone that questions the possibility or desirability of assisting these women to re-consider their positions and help support this common cause that is equally important for women’s rights as it is for freedom and democracy.

Thank you.

4 comments:

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Solomon2 said...

If Islam is referred to in ANY way as a "source of law" in the Iraqi Constitution, that's may create a hornets' nest, for the next question will be, "Does that mean just the Koran, or the hadiths as well?" Isn't that fuel for civil war?

I was not aware that the direct references to Israel have been removed. Have the direct references to Jews been removed, too? And the indirect references to Jews, Israel, and Assyrians? Where can I find the latest on the constitution? - ITM is at least a few days behind.

John said...

Very informative, thank you.

Anonymous said...

"If Islam is referred to in ANY way as a "source of law" in the Iraqi Constitution, that's may create a hornets' nest"
Unfortunately, Islam is not simply a religion as Christians (such as myself) follow our religion. Islam would more properly be called a "way of life" that has been mandated by the Almighty. Anyone who is an orthodox Muslim (person who follows this way of life) cannot in good conscience belong to a pure democracy or many other forms of government without religious influence, as these hold government above the Quran, something an orthodox Muslim cannot participate in.
By no means do I think that a theocracy is preferable, but (IMO) the best choice of government for any Islamic State would be a democracy which enforces certain aspects of Islamic law, while allowing a degree of influence be held by religious courts (as mentioned above). In other words, there is NO WAY that you will get "separation of church and state" to the degree we have in the US.
Needless to say that this is an imperfect solution, as there are many non-Muslims who would be affected adversely by enforcing Islamic law. Certain people in power just need to realize that Iraq will not quickly become the McDonald's and Wal-Mart laden Democracy that they had hoped.