Rights for women in Iraq

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Saddam Hussein’s regime was cruel and brutal towards women. The demise of that regime, offers them a new opportunity to participate fully in Iraqi society.

To ensure Iraqi women can take advantage of this tremendous opportunity, the rights of women need to be institutionalized, their personal security guaranteed and their access to opportunity ensured.

Last Thanksgiving I visited Iraq and met with many Iraqi women. At the time, women on the Governing Council in Baghdad were fighting to get their rights guaranteed on paper. These women were particularly concerned about efforts to limit their participation in Iraq’s political future. The concern was well-founded.

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In January, the Iraqi Governing Council proposed Resolution 137, which would have shifted jurisdiction over family life from civil law to Islamic law, giving local religious leaders control over women’s right to property inheritance, divorce, child custody and even movement. After objections from women in the U.S. and Iraq, Ambassador Bremer refused to sign the measure. But Iraqi women continue to worry that in the absence of enforceable constitutional guarantees, extremists will seek to weaken their legal status.

The women of Iraq are under no illusions about the great struggle that lies ahead. They took to the streets to demand more protections in the transitional constitution. That is why the Interim Constitution signed March 8th establishes the equality of Iraqi men and women and sets a goal that women occupy 25 percent of legislative posts.

The need for struggle is no surprise, given that women remain significantly underrepresented in all the decision-making bodies controlled by the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority. Even the interim constitution was drafted by an all-male Constitutional Committee. That is why the women had to demonstrate to win protections.

Many challenges remain as the country contemplates free elections. For Iraqi women to exercise political rights, their personal security must be protected. Iraqis now fear that free elections cannot take place unless security is significantly improved.

And, despite all efforts to bring about their inclusion, without the necessary resources and training to run for office, Iraq’s women will continue to be marginalized.

In February I wrote to President Bush to express concern about the future of Iraq’s women and to ask that the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) take immediate actions. The Bush administration has pledged to include women in decision-making bodies and to improve personal protection.

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The priority that the United States places on rights for women in Iraq conveys a broader message to the international community about our commitment to human rights and the importance of full participation by all citizens in a successful democracy.

Our message should be simple: a Democracy built without the full participation of half the population is unsustainable.

BY HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON

U.S. Senator (D-NY)