Iraqi Group Fights to Establish Women's Rights
Iraqi Group Fights to Establish Women's Rights
Defining the legal rights of Iraqi women is one of the major issues for the Iraqi committee writing the country's new constitution. The committee is facing a fast-approaching Aug. 15 deadline. A feminist group in Iraq is deeply concerned that women will suffer greatly if Islamic law defines their constitutional rights.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
We're moving next to Iraq which suffered another violent weekend, but politicians there have also reported some progress. Sunni leaders are ending a boycott of the committee that's writing the country's new constitution. They had suspended their participation in the process after two of their colleagues were shot and killed last week in downtown Baghdad. The committee is struggling to resolve several important issues, including the extent to which Islamic law will define the rights of Iraqi women. NPR's Tom Bullock reports from Baghdad.
TOM BULLOCK reporting:
The Baghdad Office of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq is easy to miss. There are no signs or banners, nothing distinguishing the single-story building from the others sharing the same street. It doesn't take long for the group's president to explain why.
Ms. YANAR MOHAMMED: We are known to be the most radical feminist organization in Iraq that wants women to get full equality regardless of what the circumstances are.
BULLOCK: Yanar Mohammed is arguably the most outspoken women's rights advocate in Iraq. Her attention is now focused on fighting what may be inevitable, the application of sharia, or Islamic law, to define women's rights in a new constitution.
Ms. MOHAMMED: We are practically being turned into slaves by giving the constitution writing and, of course, the resulting laws later on to a bunch of religious bigots who want to see women inferior in this society.
BULLOCK: Talk like this is dangerous in Iraq. And Yanar Mohammed and her staff have received numerous death threats. But Yanar Mohammed, a Shiite Muslim, continues her work because, she says, the alternative of living under Islamic law is worse.
Ms. MOHAMMED: Imagine if you have laws where there is no minimum age for marriage because under Islam the prophet married his last wife, she was nine years old when he married her. They want to take us back in time 1,500 years.
BULLOCK: Yanar Mohammed says there are other issues where Islamic law cannot sufficiently protect the rights of today's Iraqi women. So she's trying to convince the Iraqi people to join her fight.
Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)
BULLOCK: The Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq hopes to do this by holding forums like this one, where dozens of men and women discuss women's rights and they rely on independent Iraqi media to help.
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BULLOCK: Outlets like Mahaba Radio, a Baghdad radio station run by and programmed for women, who encourage other women to take part in the October referendum, where Iraqis will decide whether to accept the final draft of Iraq's constitution. Maysoon al-Damluji, president of Iraq's Women's Group, says all this is not enough. She believes the only way to protect women's rights in Iraq is to take the fight directly to those who are writing it.
Ms. MAYSOON AL-DAMLUJI: Rub it in, rub it in, rub it in. Put pressure on them in every kind of way.
BULLOCK: But Damluji admits this approach hasn't seen any success so far.
This, of course, is one side of a political fight and, in Iraq, it's easy to find women equally adamant Islamic law is the only way to ensure their rights are protected. They, too, are waging a media campaign.
Etha Moussa(ph) is veiled from head to toe as she edits the latest edition of R Eve(ph), a magazine for women partially sponsored by a religious Shiite political party. She is one of the women leading the charge to keep Islamic law in the constitution.
Ms. ETHA MOUSSA: (Through Translator) The Islamic principle states that there should be justice, not outright equality. If we had outright equality, then the door would be wide open for many other actions that are basically unacceptable to this society let alone religion.
BULLOCK: Etha Moussa is not alone. Other women can be seen on Baghdad streets handing out leaflets, supporting their more conservative views, often just across the way from women pushing to limit the scope of Islamic law in Iraq's constitution.
Tom Bullock, NPR News, Baghdad.
INSKEEP: This is NPR News.
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