Implications of the New Constitution for Women’s Rights

Article 14 of the Iraqi Constitution

Though the greater part of controversy over women’s rights centered on the extra-Constitutional Personal Status Code (and an amendments to the Constitution relating to such status; See section on “Islam and the Legal System” for greater detail), the inclusion in the Constitution of Article 2, which governed the role of Islam in Iraqi law, was immediate cause for concern for women’s rights activists. While other articles in the Constitution technically protected women (Article 29 prohibits all forms of violence and abuse in the “family, schools, and society”), and Article 14 prohibits gender-based discrimination, many feared that religious powers sanctioned in Article 2 would undermine other protective provisions in the Constitution and Iraq’s Civil and Personal Codes (USSCRHRP, 2010). There were also fears that such protective provisions would be formally abrogated, as dictated in the preceding article, Article 13(2), which states that any legal text contradicting the Constitution will be “deemed void.”

Shi'ite schoolgirls displaying
pro-constitution posters in 2005
(Photo: NPR)

Realizing the new set of challenges that women would face under a post-Saddam regime characterized by growing religious authority and inconsistent application of rule-of-law (Yanar Muhammad, head of the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq, stated that she is worried that this clause will turn Iraqi into an Afghanistan under the Taliban (Coleman, 2006), women’s advocacy groups demanded that protective measures for women be stated explicitly in the Constitution’s provisions (Walsh, 2005). Other groups supporting women’s rights, including Human Rights Watch, attempted to influence opinion both in and outside drafting committee meetings, with hundreds protesting in the streets  over provisions that might curtail women’s rights (Wong, 2005). 

Such efforts ultimately proved unsuccessful. Apart from the Constitution’s preamble, that stated that the “People of Iraq…were resolved to…tend to the concerns of women and their rights,” women are specifically mentioned only four times, in the context of women’s rights to participate in public affairs (Article 20), provisions for social and health security (Article 30), the prohibition of trafficking of women (Article 35), and in Article 47, which dictates that women must comprise at least one-quarter of the Council of Representatives.

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