Some Fear Loss of Women's Rights in Iraq

ByABC News
April 13, 2005, 1:45 PM

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 16, 2005 — -- Dr. Raja al-Kusai worked as a gynecologist for 26 years. Now, as a member of the national assembly helping write the nation's constitution, she is fighting for women's political and social rights.

"We need to bring all the women to be just one unit," she said, "and, you know, to fight for their rights."

Kusai wants the new Iraqi constitution to treat men and women as equals, but others want to put tighter controls on women's rights in the tradition of Islamic law, known as sharia.

Historically, Iraq has been one of the most liberal countries in the Middle East when it comes to women's rights. The first female Arab judge, government minister and university professor all were Iraqi.

After the U.S.-led invasion, women protested when Shiite politicians tried to overturn laws protecting women's rights in marriage, divorce and inheritance.

Those men, however, now have a leading role in the new government, and many women fear sharia will be codified in the new constitution.

"There are so many things to be afraid of," said Thikra Faisal, a member of the Organization of Women's Freedom. "Even educated women would be overseen by men. There would be no equality."

Kusai's efforts to mobilize women in the assembly is made more difficult because many of those women want Islamic law to be the basis of the constitution, including Dr. Jinan al-Ubaidy, a member of the national assembly and the religious party the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

"What we want is that the constitution will respect Islam, and no rules will be against Islam," Ubaidy said.

Men would be allowed up to four wives. A woman would need to write into her marriage contract her right to work. Women would inherit only half what male relatives receive -- though they would still be able to drive cars, vote and even be members of parliament.

"This is part of Islam," Ubaidy said.

The new government is finally taking shape, and Ubaidy believes women on all sides will somehow find common ground.

ABC News' Nick Watt originally reported this story April 10, 2005 for "World News Tonight."