Monday, August 15, 2005

Bush on Iraqi women's liberation was nothing but BUSHIT!

New dark age for Iraqi women

Peter Beaumont, foreign affairs editor
Sunday August 14, 2005


Earlier this year I was in Iraq's second city, Basra,
lunching with a group of Iraqi women professionals. It
was the time of the elections, and the conversation
turned to women's rights. Since the fall of Saddam,
the women complained, their freedoms had gradually
been eroded, not by official diktat but by groups of
Shia radicals who had invaded hospitals, universities
and schools, insisting that women wore headscarves and
behaved as men saw fit.
It was a story I heard again and again across the once
cosmopolitan city from middle-class professional women
who told me they intended to vote for the secular list
headed by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi for fear
of what would happen if the 'religious' Shia list
swept to a majority.

It was not to be. Allawi and the largely secular views
he represented have lost out to a new sense of
religiosity and resurgence of tribal authority that is
on the march across Iraq south of Kurdistan.

Now women from Basra to Kirkuk are facing a renewed
assault on their freedoms as Iraq's politicians
squabble over a new constitution that will at best
fudge women's rights, and at worst hugely undermine
them, despite the guarantee of a quota for
representation by women in Iraq's new parliament.

The principal of equality that existed in what was
once one of the Middle East's most secular countries,
and guaranteed women's rights even in the midst of
Saddam's atrocities, is now under threat in the
negotiation of the very constitution that many hoped
would guarantee equality. Ironically, it is with the
tacit agreement of millions of largely poorly educated
Iraqi women.

The major Shia religious parties want to replace the
secular civil law that now governs marriage, divorce,
child custody and inheritance with Sharia law. A draft
of the constitution published earlier this month in
the newspaper run by the Supreme Council for Islamic
Revolution in Iraq frames sexual equality specifically
in terms of 'the provisions of Islamic Sharia' rather
than Iraq's civil legal code. Even if, as has been
suggested, the new constitution results in a parallel
system where women can choose Sharia or the civil
code, women's rights activists fear they may be forced
by male relatives to choose a system that is not in
their interests.

In a country where the most basic human rights - to
life, freedom from intimidation, freedom from torture,
a fair judicial process, and freedom of confession -
are routinely abused, the issue of women's rights is
low on the agenda, except for those who would
proscribe them. Whatever happens over the next few
days with the finalisation of a draft constitution,
any nods it makes towards equality are likely to be
vague, and are unlikely to improve the lot of most
Iraqi women.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005


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