New Iraqi constitution must follow Islam on women's rights, say Shia

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The Independent Online

Shia members are trying to make the new constitution less secular, insisting that is the wish of the majority of the electorate who voted for Shia-dominated and religion-based parties.

Mariam al-Rayyes, a female Shia member of the committee, said Islam would be a "main source" for legislation in the new constitution and the state religion. "It gives women all rights and freedoms as long as they don't contradict our values. Concerning marriage, inheritance and divorce, this is civil status laws; that should not contradict our religious values." Her comments are seen as the first salvo in the battle over the draft constitution.

Ms Rayyes said that committee members had decided that over the next two four-year parliamentary terms, at least 25 per cent of MPs should be women. After the two terms, there would be no minimum percentage.

Attempts to roll back women's rights during the American occupation were shelved under pressure from women's groups and others. But advocates of a greater role for Islamic law are pushing for a text which could disadvantage women.

Iraq has been operating under a secular 1959 civil status law. This law will still be in effect after the new constitution is drafted.

"We reject the changes prepared on the 1959 law because some Islamic parties want to kidnap the rights of women in Iraq," said Yanar Mohammed, a women's rights activist and head of Women's Freedom in Iraq Movement. "We reject such attempts because women should be full citizens with full rights, not semi-human beings."

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