There are a lot of interesting aspects to the issue of women’s role and rights within Iraqi society.

On the one hand, according to the State Department, the “(t)he Transitional Administrative Law requires a 25 percent female membership in the Parliament”. [In fact, nearly a third of the Parliament is female]. That requirement, while impracticable, would be nice to see for our United States Senate.

Yet, the chaos and disruption that have marked Iraq since the American invasion have been catastrophic for women, and have been particularly difficult for secularized women.

The post-invasion period has seen a huge uptick in rapes, kidnappings, and intimidation. Women have lost jobs, or been forced to quit them out of fear for their security.

Now, the battle over women’s rights has entered the parliamentary phase:

One morning last week, three dozen women in Western-style business suits crowded into the office of the man who would soon be Iraq’s prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Most were members of the newly elected National Assembly, and they had a list of demands.

They wanted women to run at least 10 of Iraq’s 30-odd government ministries. They wanted the number of places reserved for women on party slates raised to 40 percent in future elections. Most of all, they wanted a promise of respect for women’s rights.

Hours later, another group of women who are assembly members arrived in Dr. Jaafari’s office. They wore black abayas, the garments that cover a woman’s body from head to foot, and they had another agenda. They wanted to put aspects of Islamic law into Iraq’s legal code – including provisions that would allow men as many as four wives and reduce the amount of money allotted to women in inheritances.
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This split among the new parliament’s women, can be roughly described as a battle between women that come from the Kurdish contingent and the more conservative women from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s shi’a dominated slate of candidates.

According to the Times: “The Shiite leadership…is shrewdly relying on these women to carry much of the fight in the new assembly over where Islam itself, not just its women, should fit in Iraqi society.”

The two camps have been circling each other warily as the new government prepares to take power.

The Shiite women “want to hinder woman, put shackles on her,” said Songul Chapuk Omer, an ethnic Turkmen from Kirkuk. “They despise secular women. They consider that she has committed crimes.”

For her part, Ms. Omer – who has highlights in her glossy brown hair and favors flared jeans and denim shirts – sometimes refers teasingly to her black-clad Shiite counterparts as “full cover girls.”

How this debate is resolved will have a lot of implications for Muslim women throughout the region. I hope that they are able to retain their rights within parliament, and that they are able to expand the rights of women within the context of the law.

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