Baghdad, Iraq; Jan. 21, 2004 – On January 16, the Iraqi Womenâ€™s Organization and womenâ€™s rights activists held a conference at the Al-Sayd Club in Baghdad in response to the December 29, 2003 decision by the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) to pass a bill canceling what is known as the â€œPersonal Status Law,â€� a set of rules that has long provided opportunities for and protected the rights of women here.
The cancellation of this law would mean that Iraqi women will have to rely on religious institutions for personal issues such as marriage and divorce, rather than being allowed to use civilian courts for these matters. It is seen by many as a step toward the implementation of fundamentalist Islamic law.
Aljazeera reported on Wednesday, January 21, that around 5,000 Kurdish women marching in the Northeastern Iraq town of Suleimaniyah in protest of the recent IGC decision, while in the Shiâ€™ite town of Najaf, some 500 women demonstrated in support of the decision.
The US occupation command (Coalition Provisional Authority, or CPA) in Iraq has stated that it will not endorse the decision by the IGC because it would deprive women of their rights. CPA head L. Paul Bremer must sign off on decisions in order for them to take effect. The CPA also has the power to overrule decisions of the IGC, but has yet to overrule the recent decision, nor stated as to whether they will do so.
The bill, known as Decision 137 of the IGC, has triggered a large wave of objections and outcry from the Iraqi people.
When asked if he would annul the decision, Adnan al-Pachachi, the current chairman of the IGC, told Kurdsat TV, â€œI think the decision will not be implemented. It is a decision that is full of legislative loopholes. It was not even approved by the IGC in a normal way.â€�
Neither Al-Pachachi, nor any of the people interviewed for this story, provided justifications for the passing of the bill by the IGC. It is believed by many that certain clerics in the IGC were behind this decision. Only three of the IGC's 25 members are female.
Demonstrations by Iraqi womenâ€™s organizations and activist groups have ensued, for they say the decision not only threatens the status of women in Iraq, but it endangers the future of Iraqi families.
The conference called by the Iraqi Womenâ€™s Organization, a Kirkuk-based grassroots group, was attended by Al-Pachachi along with other IGC members, a representative of the CPA, representatives from womenâ€™s organizations and various other associations. Several Iraqi ministers also attended to express their rejection of Decision 137.
Head of the Gathering of Iraqi Humanitarian Societies and Organizations, Adnan Abdul Aziz, stated to the conference that this move by the IGC is a concentration of sectarianism, and called on them to cancel it immediately.
Hundreds of Iraqi women held a sit-in in Baghdad to express their rejection of the IGCâ€™s decision. Women activists also stated the need for the women of Iraq to participate strongly in the rebuilding of their country, saying Decision 137 would greatly impede that.
The formulation of the Personal Status Law was originally triggered on July 14, 1958, the day Iraqis toppled the British-installed monarchy. The Law provided Iraqi women a role in their country and granted them many rights. These rights were enjoyed even throughout the reign of Saddam Hussein and his Baâ€™ath Party.
Rana Al-Aiouby, an Iraqi woman who works as an interpreter, stated, â€œI canâ€™t believe these men. What are they trying to do? I thought they were supposed to be trying to help the people of their country? This does nothing but infuriate us!â€�
Al-Aiouby also stated, â€œIt is clear to all of us that the more fundamentalist members of the IGC are using their power to try to make Iraqi women live like the women in Saudi [Arabia]. Now we are all wondering why the CPA doesn't overrule this decision, when they have the power to do so at anytime?â€�
Ghazwan Al-Mukhtar, an Iraqi ex-engineer, stated, â€œOf course I know what those idiots at the IGC decide. As if Iraq doesnâ€™t have enough problems right now, they need to make a problem with womenâ€™s rights!â€�
Nisreen Brwari, Iraqâ€™s Minister of Public Works, joined a womenâ€™s demonstration which condemned the decision.
Dr. Genan al-Jabari, an Iraqi woman who teaches physics at Baghdad University, said, â€œThis order by the IGC has set us back 40 years, and erased all the gains that Iraqi women have made over this time.â€�
In addition, the Iraqi Society for Human Rights stated at the conference that the decision is â€œâ€¦an assassination of womenâ€™s rights, and a proof for false allegations of some political parties that kept pretending to demand elections, freedom, and respect of human rights.â€�
As for those speaking out in favor of Decision 137, Aljazeera quoted Sokayna al-Sumaydie, head of the Islamic Union for the Women of Iraq, as saying, â€œSharia [fundamentalist Islamic law] guarantees the goodwill of people and sets standards for divorce, polygamy, and marriage. We can not fight the orders of God. We refuse any law that calls for scrapping the Sharia law.â€�