BAGHDAD — “We know that the state of women in Iraq is getting worse,” said Fawzia al-Babakhan, an Iraqi lawyer who gave a blistering critique of a proposed Iraqi law that plans to rewrite the established rules for marriage and inheritance according to Shiite Islamic law.
The bill in question would consider girls as adults in the eyes of the law and would consider them ready for marriage at the age of nine. According to former Justice Minister Hassan al-Shammari, the law does not explicitly lower the marriage age. However, the law addresses rules of divorce for girls nine and older; the age that—the law argues—is the age that girls hit puberty.
The law would legalize marital rape, based on a clause in the law that states women must comply with their husband’s sexual demands. It would grant men who divorced their wives automatic custody of children over the age of two, ban women from leaving their homes without the consent of their husbands, and prohibit Muslim men from marrying non-Muslim women. It would also make it easier for men to marry multiple wives, an act that was banned in Iraq with the exception of special circumstances.
Previously, Iraq was considered to have one of the most progressive legal codes in the Middle East. Last month, Iraqi women took to Baghdad to protest the bill.
The law would be a violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty of which Iraq is a signatory. Critics of the bill include many Shia women, to whom the law would apply, but also include some Shia religious leaders.
“This law means humiliation for women and for Iraqis in general,” said female legislator Safia al-Suhail. “It shows that we are going backwards.”
The law still needs to be passed by the Iraqi Parliament before going into effect. It is not expected that the Iraqi Parliament will take any action until a new government is formed. Despite the country’s elections last month, results have not been announced.
Supporters of the bill, though, claim that the law would be voluntary—people would be able to choose whether to use it while writing wills and marriage contracts. Proponents also state that this law will “save women’s ‘rights and dignity.’”
To many, though, the proposed law is widely viewed as a political stunt made by al-Fadila. The political group has made moves like this before—in 2004, after the removal of Saddam Hussein, the party proposed similar rules to what is currently in the proposed law. However, the constraints of U.S. opposition and political infighting that existed in 2004 no longer exists now.
The legislation has also been condemned by groups campaigning for human rights for Iraqi women. A representative of Human Rights Watch, a U.S. based organization, stated that passage of the law would be “a disastrous and discriminatory step backward” for the women and girls of Iraq. The representative went on to state that the law would only further define the social divisions in the country despite the government’s claims of equality for all.