There are many countries who have a shocking record of oppressing women and violating their basic human rights – but Iraq is still right up there with the worse. Last month the Iraqi Council of Ministers brought in a new law called the Ja’fari law.

The law has been named after the 6th Shi’ite imam – Ja’far al-Sadiq who founded his own school of law {well Shi’ite version of it). The law has been proposed to deal with various issues that affect women such as marriage, inheritance, divorce and the adoption of children.

The law that currently deals with these issues is called No 188 and dates back to 1959 – it is considered the most protective of women’s rights in Iraq. It stipulates various things like legal age of marriage being 18, restricting rights to polygamy, allowing Muslim males to marry outside the religion without restrictions and that a woman is allowed to disobey her husband if he treats her badly.

Fast forward to the present bill which to be honest looks like they’re heading straight back into the middle ages. The legal age of marriage will be changed to 15 for men and a horrific 9 for females. Although it can actually be even lower with the consent of a guardian! Women must receive permission to leave the marital home, and must supply men with ‘sex’ whenever they want. Husbands are not obligated to financially support any wife who cannot sexually satisfy them – for instance if they’ve married a little girl of nine.

The law has not been passed yet, it is still in draft but there is fortunately some sort of protest that may be able to halt it. Liberal Muslims and scholars have complained and pretested against the law but there are difficulties with even standing up against this sort of dark age legislation. Defenders of the draft have called it ‘Divine Sharia’ insisting it must be ratified – which makes criticizing it difficult for the voices of educated Muslims. Many already risk repercussions and often post online under pseudonyms and using security software like this – watch this video .

Women’s groups and the brave activists have taken to the street to protest though and there is some semblance of political outrage at the sectarian politicians using Islam as an excuse to cover up their corruption and the endemic violation of human rights particularly against women. This law if it comes into force will represent a step back of at least a century for Iraqi women. It is a disgusting and degrading piece of legislation and we hope it never comes to pass.

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