A group of female activists, headed by the Minister of State for Women’s Affairs Ibtihal al-Zaidi (al-Maliki's only female cabinet member), are trying to change Article 409 of Iraq's Penal Code. According to Zaidi, Article 409, which is the law applicable to 'honor killings', unfairly favors men. Even though killing someone can land the murderer the death penalty, 'honor killings' are handled differently. For that, you just get jail time, but women will spend far more time in prison than men.
She [Zaidi] recounted the story of a 12-year-old Iraqi girl who killed her father after she saw him committing adultery. She was sentenced to 15 years in jail.
“If a man saw one of his female dependents committing adultery, how would he be punished? Six months and he’ll get out."
“A woman, even a 12-year-old, got 15 years in jail for an act she committed out of fear and horror of what she saw.
“Definitely, we have brought up this issue and we asked ‘where is the fairness and justice?’. Here the sentence for a woman differs from a man’s. Fairness and equality is required in this issue,” Zaidi told Reuters in an interview on Sunday.
Zaidi said she was planning to present a recommendation to the cabinet to modify Article 409 to require the same sentence for male and female killers. But she believes any proposed changes to the law are likely to provoke a “strong reaction”.
“At the end of the day, we are a Middle Eastern culture where tribal norms dictate affairs,” said Zaidi, an Arabic linguist and independent member of Maliki’s ruling coalition.“We will require some time before these recommendations turn into law ... there needs to be social awareness about this issue.”
As it stands with Article 409 if a man “surprises his wife or one of his female dependents (who is) in a state of adultery or finds her in bed with a partner and kills her immediately, or kills one of them”, he'll get a max of 3 years.
She's also trying to deal with the terrible problem of domestic violence in Iraq. Although official estimates claim 20 percent of women are abused, Sundus Abbas of the women's rights organization 'Women's Leadership Institute', believes it's closer to a whopping 73 percent. Unlike Zaidi, Abbas has a different perspective on Article 409.
Zaidi’s proposed changes to the honor killing law fail to address the issue, she said. Giving female killers the same rights as male killers would still provide “legal cover for violence against women”.Good luck with that. Changing the mindset of a religiously conservative, tribal mentality, patriarchal society will take a lot more than abolishing or toughening laws, but at least they're making the effort.
“It is not correct to give the husband the right to kill his wife under this pretext and to give the same right to the wife in the same provision,” she told Reuters.
“I believe (Article 409) must be abolished and instead have a law that punishes a crime regardless of the reason.”