Women in Iraq took to the streets on International Women’s Day to protest the recent decision by the cabinet to approve draft legislation to institute sharia law in Iraq based on Shiite jurisprudence.
The legislation would change Iraq’s current personal status law, which has been called the most progressive in the Muslim-majority Middle East countries. The current laws uphold women’s rights in the areas of marriage, child custody and inheritance.
The new legislation would permit marriage for girls as young as nine-years old. In the case of divorce, custody of any child over the age of two would automatically be given to the father. In addition, the new legislation allows marital rape, giving the man the right to sexual intercourse with his wife whenever he chooses. Overall, all marriages, divorces and inheritance cases would be legislated according to the Ja’afi interpretation of shariah law and administered by Shiite clergy members
Protesters took to the streets, shouting, "On this day of women, women of Iraq are in mourning."
Hanaa Eduar, a prominent Iraqi human rights activist, said, "We believe that this is a crime against humanity. It would deprive a girl of her right to live a normal childhood."
The bill "risks constitutionally protected rights for women and international commitment," wrote Nickolay Mladenov, the UN's representative to Iraq, on Twitter.
Moderate forces in Iraqi have been embroiled in a fight against Islamists since similar legislation was proposed in 2003.
According to Hussein al-Mura'abi, a legislator and leader of the Islamist Fadila party who is pushing the legislation forward, "This is the core of the freedom. Based on the Iraqi constitution, each component of the Iraqi people has the right to regulate its personal status in line with the instructions of its religion and doctrine."
Ja’afi Law follows the rulings of the sixth Shi'ite imam Ja'afar al-Sadiq, who instituted his own school of Islamic jurisprudence.