Houzan Mahmoud: Iraq must reject a constitution that enslaves women

Islamic terrorism is killing and injuring Iraqi women daily, employing, among other weapons, acid attacks

Monday 15 August 2005 00:00 BST

Today is the deadline for Iraq's ruling political classes to agree a brand new "constitution" for the country - but don't be deceived, this is likely to be nothing but another false dawn for Iraq's women. Much of the debate over the constitution's main articles has centred on the degree to which Islam will be the source for future laws in Iraq. This spells disaster for Iraq's women, and represents a cave-in to the terrorist Islamist groups who are "committing crimes against humanity" on an almost daily basis, in the words of Amnesty International.

The constitution's drafting committee, like Iraq's legislative assembly, is dominated by religious, ethnic and tribal figures. Committee members have been pushing for Islamic Sharia law to be the sole source of the constitution and there is strong resistance to the incorporation of any human rights standards that are seen as usurping Islamic legal supremacy.

By all accounts, the finished document is going to reflect the growing forced Islamisization of Iraqi life, as the poison of Islamic groups spreads into the mainstream. Supposedly moderate politicians are disastrously disinclined to challenge the increasingly powerful Islamist factions that now hold sway in almost every quarter of post-occupation Iraq.

Whether Sunni or Shia; in the current government or in opposition; affiliated directly to al-Qa'ida or to the Jordanian fanatic Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, or are former Baathists who "freelance" as so-called "resistance fighters", what unites Iraq's armed Islamists is a fierce hatred of women that rivals their hatred for US and British "invaders", foreign "infidels" and other assorted enemies.

Across the country, a steady clampdown on women's rights has been going unreported and unchecked by the government. Islamic terrorism is killing and injuring Iraqi women daily, employing among other weapons, acid attacks.

My women's rights group, the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq, has been documenting part of the upsurge in violence against women. In March this year, for example, followers of the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr targeted an outing of students from Basra University. Playing football and listening to music, the mixed group was attacked in Basra Public Park. One male student was killed trying to defend his female friends against Islamists who literally tore the women's clothes off their bodies. Sadr's men photographed the dishevelled, half-dressed women, and told them that their parents would receive the photos if they didn't refrain in future from "immoral" behaviour.

More widely, professional women have been deliberately targeted and killed - notably in the city of Mosul - and, recently, anti-women Islamists in Baghdad have taken to throwing acid in women's faces and on to their uncovered legs.

So-called "honour killings" are rife, as is the kidnapping and rape of women. Beheadings have occurred and women have been sold into sexual servitude. When I was in Baghdad a few months ago, I couldn't go anywhere without a bodyguard. The sense of danger and threat was tangible.

Islamist repression against women is a campaign of "moral" terror. Leaflets, graffiti and verbal warnings in their thousands warn women against going out unveiled, against putting on make-up, and against shaking hands or mixing with men. Female doctors have been prevented from treating male patients, and male doctors warned not to attend to women.

This is a recipe for future gender enslavement, second-class citizenship and ignorance. Thousands of female university students have now given up their studies to protect themselves against Islamist threats.

Islamist hostility is contagious and echoed daily in high-level political debate. Currently there is a drive over the "right" of men to have four wives, to make divorce a male preserve and for custody of children to be given to men only. Even women on Iraq's National Assembly - the country's parliament - have been calling for resolutions to allow for the beating of women by their guardians (males relatives, such as husbands or fathers).

This is all the outcome of the occupation of Iraq. This has been pursued under the name of liberation, but what we actually see is women increasingly losing their freedom, while political Islamists feel free to terrorise them. The Islamicists pour into this invaded, so-called Muslim land in order, they say, to liberate it; but in reality, neither the US nor the Islamists are our liberators. They both really fight for power and influence in Iraq and in the region.

The January so-called election and today's constitution are all part of the same procedure, which is to legitimate the current installed government in Iraq. It is only in an atmosphere of occupation and terror, they can push their reactionary ideas forward.

The constitution is set to add to a growing fearfulness among Iraqi women, as their rights are passed over or signed away to Islamists hostile to Iraq's entire female population. Women in Iraq face being dragged back into the dark ages. We need to stop this tragedy before it's too late. A constitution based on enslaving women, religious sectarianism, and tribalism must be rejected.

The writer is the UK Head of the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq and co-founder of the Iraq Freedom Congress


Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in