Amendments to the Personal Status Law in Iraqi Kurdistan strengthen women’s rights - Statehood & Participation

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Interview with Kurdish Judge and Kurdish MP

Amendments to the Personal Status Law in Iraqi Kurdistan strengthen women’s rights

Interview by Layla Al-Zubaidi
Q: I would like to ask you about the personal status law in Kurdistan. The Kurdish Parliament passed amendments that have improved women’s rights, and the reaction from women’s rights organizations was very positive. I’d like to know more about this initiative, how it started and how the new regulations will be implemented practically?

Al-Shirfani: Regarding the timing of the initiative, Mr. Bradoust is more informed about this than I am. Regarding the implementation, I would like to reply to this.

Bradoust: Yes we’d like to split the answer into two parts. Before I talk about the draft law, I will give you a bit of information on the Parliament in Kurdistan. It is made up of 111 MPs, and its proceedings are defined by internal regulations.  Draft laws can be submitted to Parliament by two methods. The first method is to have 10 MPs sign a draft law and submit it to the Speaker of Parliament, who then places it on the Parliamentary agenda for a first reading. It is then transferred to Parliamentary committees for further study. The second method is through the government which submits a draft law by sending an official letter to the Speaker who then adds it to the agenda for a first reading. Subsequently, it is also sent to the relevant Parliamentary committees for review.

Q: Does civil society have a role in Parliamentary committees?

Bradoust: Civil society does not have representation in the committees, but it is possible for civil society organizations, according to their expertise, to attend meetings (for example of the women’s rights organization or the legal committee) to present their expectations of a draft law.

Of course I will talk about the role of civil society in developing the personal status draft law. The personal status draft law originated from continuous demands voiced by women’s groups to Parliament, requesting the amendment of the laws concerning polygamy. They also asked that the word noshouz or obedience (of a woman towards a man) be removed, and they asked for women to have the right to irrevocable divorce, as well as other issues. 

As a member of the law committee and women’s rights committee, we collected these demands and included CSO representatives in our meetings. We also consulted many scholars, theologians, professors and invited them to workshops and meetings in Parliament. Consequently we developed a comprehensive plan for the draft law.  We listened to many civil society representatives and experts.

The women’s rights committee wrote the draft text, collected the legally required signatures from MPs and submitted the draft law to the Speaker of Parliament.

Because the topic was sensitive, I felt that it was better if it were studied further and that the government and cabinet were familiar with the draft law because ultimately government has the executive power to implement this law.

The Speaker sent the draft law to the cabinet, which decided to launch a special committee to study it. The committee was comprised of law professors, experts in Islamic Shari’a laws and personal status law, religious leaders as well as women’s rights activists. They studied the draft law, added some items and deleted others, based on the social situation in Kurdistan. Furthermore, the Prime Minister held a conference on the draft law and a big number of religious leaders of all governorates of Kurdistan attended, in addition to almost all Kurdish women’s organizations, activists and human rights organizations. I participated in this conference as well.

During the conference, other ideas were developed and added to the draft law. Recommendations were made specifically for the special government committee and the draft law became a government draft law which was sent back to the Speaker of Parliament.  We spent almost two and a half years drafting and developing this law, and Parliament debated it article by article.

The Kurdish Parliament had never witnessed an intense and lively debate as the one on this draft law. The subject is very sensitive.  On the one hand, women’s groups put pressure on Parliament to ratify all the amendments, while on the other hand some religious leaders from their pulpits and mosques attacked Parliament for interfering in issues which are the domain of Shari’a laws and thus at the heart of religion.

Parliament was therefore in a very difficult situation.  For example on the issue of polygamy there were two points of view: one which advocated banning it completely and the other which agreed to allow it but with very tough conditions imposed. The former text of the law says that polygamy is allowed except in certain cases. But in the new text this was amended to state that polygamy is not allowed except in certain cases.

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