required to share in the domestic responsibility and to assist their families by earning informal wages, thus their school attendance was curbed.14 Women endured other hardships under the strict political regime of Saddam Hussein; according to a U.S. Department of State Fact Sheet, Hussein’s regime utilized sexual assault and torture to terrorize dissidents and to elicit confessions from female prisoners. 15
It appears that the position of Kurdish women in northern Iraq was somewhat different during this period. Between 1991 and 2003, the Kurdish region was fairly autonomous, protected by the no-fly-zone enforced by U.S., French, and British warplanes. Some argue that as a result, Kurdish-Iraqi women in a better situation than their counterparts, allowing them to be involved in the Kurdistan Regional Government and to form women’s organizations and networks that seek greater political and public participation of women.16 However, in the more traditional and tribal parts of Kurdistan, the custom of “honor killings,”as will be discussed shortly, persisted. One news report indicates that with the recent help of dozens of non- governmental organizations (NGOs), this custom might be gradually eroding in the Kurdish areas. 17
Deterioration of the Legal Situation
The 1970 Iraqi Constitution issued by the Baathist regime declared equal rights for all Iraqis, regardless of sex, race, language, social origin, or religion. In 1980, Law No. 55 granted women the right to be nominated to the Iraqi National Assembly. Labor laws also required equal pay, benefits, and promotions for men and women. For the most part, the personal status laws in Baathist Iraq were based on the 1959 Code of Personal Status, which drew on various sources including Islamic law, customary law, and judicial precedence. Under this Code, polygamy was permitted only with the consent of the Muslim courts in Iraq. Compulsory marriage was punishable by law. A wife was entitled to request dissolution of her marriage if her husband did not “fulfil any lawful condition stipulated in [a] marriage contract.” 18
In practice, these laws were often not enforced. After the Iran-Iraq war ended in 1988, some sources indicate that a man was able to “divorce his wife without paying compensation, and men were also allowed to marry several wives without consulting current spouses.”19 In the 1990s, the legal situation of Iraqi women began to deteriorate further. In 1990, as part of an effort to gain support from Iraq’s tribal
15“Life Under Saddam Hussein: Past Repression and Atrocities by Saddam Hussein’s Regime,” April 4, 2003, [http://www.state.gov/p/nea/rls/19675.htm].
16Winning the Peace Conference Report, op. cit., p. 5.
17A survey commissioned by the Kurdish Women’s Union discovered that “382 women [were] known to have been murdered by their families between 1998 and 2002 in the northern half of Kurdish Iraq.” See Nicholas Birch, “Efforts pay off to protect Kurdish women,” Christian Science Monitor, March 3, 2004.
18See “Iraq, Republic of,” [http://www.law.emory.edu/IFL/legal/iraq.htm]. 19Rasha Saad, “Women’s Fate,” Al-Ahram Weekly, 19-25 June, 2003.