Iraq: Interim Constitution Shortchanges Women

(New York, March 5, 2004) -- Iraq’s proposed interim constitution fails to give adequate protection to women’s human rights, Human Rights Watch said today. The Iraqi Governing Council is expected to sign the interim constitution  
in the coming days.

“Equal rights for Iraqi women in marriage, inheritance, and their children’s citizenship should not be left in jeopardy,” said LaShawn R. Jefferson, executive director of the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. “The interim constitution should explicitly guarantee these rights.”  
The Iraqi interim constitution, officially known as the Temporary Administrative Law, will serve as the country’s fundamental legal framework until a new permanent constitution is put in place by December 31, 2005. A copy of a draft interim constitution obtained by Human Rights Watch contains a provision prohibiting discrimination based on sex. However, it does not specifically guarantee equality between men and women in at least three critical areas where women in the Middle East have historically suffered discrimination:  
The interim constitution contains certain equal protection clauses, including the provision granting Iraqi women a substantial number of seats in parliament and explicitly states that any references made in the masculine tense apply to both men and women. However, in the future, Iraq’s constitution should explicitly contain provisions that guarantee women’s equal rights in the family and in society more broadly, Human Rights Watch said. Throughout the region, equal protection clauses in constitutions have often been circumvented by the imposition of clearly discriminatory family and personal status codes.  
“The interim constitution will be the starting point for drafting a permanent Iraqi Constitution,” Jefferson said. “If a goal is to ensure that women’s rights are given equal stature and protection, the constitutional process in Iraq has gotten off to a weak start.”