It is assumed that women are the worst victims of ISIS — its savage acts, its virulent ideology and its organized sexual slavery. Therefore, it is assumed that any defeat of the ISIS will invariably be a victory for women.
However, as our colleague Khaled Suleiman stated in an article published by Daraj.com, what has happened is quite different. Up until now the marriage of a girl at the age of nine was illegal. But attempts began to reduce the age of puberty ironically when ISIS’ defeat began, as the article states.
As such there is nothing new about the amendment to the Personal Status Law in Iraq. On 8 March 2014, Iraqi Justice Ministry Hassan al-Shammariat announced the Jaafari law (followed by most Shiite) approved a girl’s marriage at the age of nine, which he believed is fair to women. It was said that reduction in the age of puberty gave the girl a great privilege as she could not be considered a minor and so became a legitimate heir to her father if he dies. It has also been stated that this law would lift injustice that women have been subjected to over the past several decades by underdeveloped social traditions and laws.
These arguments were central to the justification regarding the decision taken in 2014. However, in a span of three months ISIS occupied Iraq’s second city Mosul, and took control of large parts of the country. It was at this time that this so-called progressive law, which allows girls to get married at the age of nine, was shelved and had to wait for the right time to be implemented. Meanwhile, ISIS started to enslave and rape girls, especially of the Yazidi community. But with the liberation from ISIS, doors swung open for the implementation of the aforementioned legislation that is “fair to women”. With no ISIS in their way, it was claimed that women had emerged victorious and marriage of nine year old girls marriage became applicable. Currently, parliamentary majority in Baghdad seems determined to bring about this achievement.
The promised new legislation has other so-called “progressive features”. It prevents civil marriage between sects, or at least hinders them and makes them temporary. This calls for an amendment to the 1959 law, which exempted personal status from intervention by sectarian leaders and set the age for marriage of both sexes at 18 years.
The new situation may exacerbate sectarianism. The amendment also wants a nine-year-old girl to be able to sign her own marriage contract if there is no guardian! There is no need to be afraid here as well, because according to the votaries of this law a girl at the age of nine is fully aware about what is good for her.
“The issue is not just as some civil society organizations and women's rights organizations say, an issue that infringes upon women's rights and gives men the power to determine marriage only, but primarily infringes on the rights of children. A nine-year-old girl is still in elementary school, is not physically ready and understands nothing of sexual relationship. Nine years does not qualify her to bear responsibility of a family; actually she is not aware of it in the first place,” the aforementioned writer avers.
Thus this proposed draft law is a violation of women's rights as well as a violation of children's rights. There is also an ISIS within us. It is hard for women to win, for children to play and for Iraq to flourish as long as there is this ISIS among us.
This article was first published in Arabic.
Hazem Saghieh is a Lebanese political analyst and the political editor of the London-based Arab newspaper al-Hayat.