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Opinion: Personal Matters | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Iraqi protesters hold a banner during a demonstration against the draft of the Ja’afari Personal Status Law during International Women’s Day in Baghdad on March 8, 2014. (Reuters/Thaier Al-Sudani)

The Iraqi women protesting in Baghdad—dressed in black—over the Ja’afari personal status draft law which the Iraqi cabinet has approved, are linked to our situation as individuals in general and as women in particular. It is truly an occasion where we must all wear black in mourning to mark an inherent injustice that must not be overlooked.

Personal status laws form the core of social and legal progress in any society in the world. But when it comes to Arab countries, these laws have been a sign of backwardness. Barely any Arab country has been immune to this, even during the post-revolutionary era. There remain relapses, and the Iraqi cabinet’s recent decision is such a case.

The suggested Iraqi draft law strips women who belong to the Ja’afari Shi’a sect of their basic marriage, divorce and inheritance rights, and worst of all, permits the marriage of nine-year-old girls. One cannot but be shocked by the delinquency of those who approved the draft law, and yet here it is now on its way to parliament for approval.

Of course, Iraq is not the only country producing backward phenomena of this kind. The Arab Spring, which is now passing through a long autumn, has shown us how we have stumbled on our path toward becoming free citizens with equal rights.

Of course we won’t forget the “efforts” of the Muslim Brotherhood during Mohamed Mursi’s rule to legislate for exactly the same phenomenon. We won’t forget how marrying off young girls has become a plague in Yemen, how it has become widespread among displaced Syrians, and how it is even creeping into Lebanon as well.

A few days ago, Randa Berri, the wife of Lebanon’s speaker of parliament, said it would be difficult to criminalize marital rape because no one knows what happens behind closed doors. But the truth is, this phrase—“behind closed doors”—cuts straight to the heart of the issue.

Because marrying off young girls—or to be accurate, raping them—under a legal cover, and violating a woman’s body under the excuse that the assaulter is her husband, with all the details in the matter filed under the “men’s rights” category and all it entails of domestic violence, whether sexual in nature of not, or related to power, mostly happen “behind closed doors.”

Most of the time, legislators in our societies deal with these issues on the basis that women are “deficient in faith and intelligence.” And it is on this basis that women’s ownership of their minds and bodies are thus confiscated.

I woke up yesterday to messages celebrating the occasion of International Women’s Day. Google too celebrated the same event and media outlets and social networking websites buzzed with reports and images commemorating the occasion. I am certainly not against marking the occasion and celebrating it through the media, as highlighting the core of the problem is important. However, as we exchange greetings, someone out there is working towards expanding injustice and keeping us “behind closed doors.”