Iraqi women protest changing family laws

Iraqi women demonstrate on Baghdad’s al-Fardus (Paradise) square calling on top US administrator Paul Bremer not to ratify a new family law approved by the interim Governing Council which they consider unfavorable to women and children (AFP/Cris Bouroncle)
About 100 Iraqi women, led by a minister of the Iraqi Governing Council, marched in Baghdad Tuesday to protest proposed changes that would scrap the secular family affairs code and place it under Islamic religious law.
From the article: “Iraq’s 1959 civil code governing family affairs was considered the most progressive in the Middle East, making polygamy difficult and guaranteeing women’s custody rights in the case of divorce.”
Nasreen Mustafa Sideek Barwari, Iraqi minster of public works, led the march. I interviewed Barwari in Arbil in July 2002 and came away impressed. She’s Harvard educated, smart, poised and truly wants what’s best for the people of Iraq — men and women alike. She’s Kurdish, by the way.
Juan Cole has a lot of background on these proposed changes and their implications. He understands Islamic law much better than I do. As he says:

The IGC has ceded to the religious codes jurisdiction over marriage, engagement, suitability to marry, the marriage contract, proof of marriage, dowry, financial support, divorce, the 3-month “severance payments” owed to divorced wives in lieu of alimony, inheritance, and all other personal status matters.
For the vast majority of women who are Muslim, the implementation of `iddah or the obligation of a man to support a woman for 3 months after he divorces her (a term long enough to see whether she is pregnant with his child) has the effect of abolishing the divorced woman’s right to alimony. This abrogation of alimony was effected for Muslims in India in the mid-1980s with the Shah Banou case, as the Congress Party’s sop to Indian Muslim fundamentalists. The particular form of Islamic law that the IGC seems to envisage operating would also give men the right of unilateral divorce over their wives, gives men the right to take second, third and fourth wives, and gives girls half as much inheritance from the father’s estate as boys.

But the real question is why is the IGC taking Iraq in a theocratic direction, which is something senior officials in Washington have publicly worried and cautioned against? I’m seeing my Arabic teacher tomorrow, who is an Iraqi Shi’ite, and I’ll ask him what he thinks about this.

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