UK: "Women's rights under attack: occupation, constitution and Islamist extremism"

Act Together
This month, Act Together: Women's Action for Iraq is hosting Iraqi women’s rights activist Sundus Abbas, Director of Women in Leadership Institute, Baghdad.
Sundus Abbas is a leading women’s rights activist in Iraq and has been involved in the campaign around the constitution organised by a network of 37 Iraqi women’s organisations.
The current constitution stipulates that the existing family laws that regulate marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance, and which apply equally to all members of society, will be replaced by family laws pertaining to specific religious and ethnic communities. This article gives authority to conservative religious leaders to interpret laws according to their belief and provides no safeguards against Taliban-like interpretations of Islamic law. Following laws based on communal affiliations also increases sectarianism which would be detrimental in the current situation.

Many women in Iraq fear that the constitution will enshrine the erosion of freedoms experienced since the American invasion because of poor security and the ascendance of Islamist militias and terrorist groups. Women are increasingly being harassed; being forced to wear the hijab (headscarf) and conservative dress. Some have been prevented from driving, their movements have been severely restricted and monitored, and some have been physically attacked.

Many outspoken women, who have continued to struggle for their rights, regularly receive threatening emails and letters from extremist Islamist groups. Up until recently, Sundus has ignored these and carried on working as a women’s rights activist, but two weeks ago a close affiliate was assassinated and she realised she was in real danger. Like so many other Iraqis, she has been forced to leave the country. At this critical time, the future of women’s rights in Iraq depends on the lobbying and consciousness-raising work of people like Sundus and, of course, extremist groups are only too well aware of this.

Act Together will organize several events that will provide a platform for Sundus Abbas as well as other Iraqi women’s rights activists. Suad Al-Jazairy just returned from a 5 months’ visit to Iraq where she got involved in the women’s movement and focused on raising women’s issues within the Iraqi media. She also supported Sundus and the Iraqi Women’s Network in the campaign around the personal status laws. Mubajel Baban, an Iraqi exile who has been living in London since the 1970s, was involved in the drafting of the 1959 constitution and is able to shed light on the political and asocial spaces available for women in the 1950s as opposed to now.

Public events

SOAS, 17 July 6:30-9:30, Khalili Theatre

House of Commons, 19 July 5-7, with Clare Short, MP