An Ideal Constitution on Women’s Rights
Women from across the Middle East —from Morocco to Jordan, Egypt to Iraq—responded to the following question: What would an ideal constitution say on women’s rights?
The ideal constitution should move women from being classified as property to owners of property. It should state that woman are equal to men and have the same rights and duties before the law. The constitution should eliminate racial and gender discrimination in employment, health care, education and family laws. It should establish a mechanism to monitor women’s status and penalize those who violate women’s rights.
The new Moroccan constitution, adopted in July 2011, exhibits some qualities of an ideal constitution. It may benefit women since several articles were approved under pressure from the feminist movement. The preamble includes progressive language prohibiting all forms of discrimination. Article 19 states there must be equality between men and women and establishes a body to combat discrimination. Article 30 ensures equal opportunity for women to vote and run for political office.
Only four women were represented in Egypt’s 85-member constitutional committee. As a result, no article was inserted into the constitution to guarantee women’s rights. Article 33 says that all citizens are equal before the law, but there is no explicit guarantee of women's rights or their equal status with men.
The ideal constitution would include articles that guarantee women's rights and equal status with men in political, social, cultural and economic life. It would also protect a woman’s right to initiate divorce or khula. The ideal constitution would also set the minimum age for marriage at 18 years old. It would criminalize female genital mutilation and human trafficking. The ideal constitution would also ensure the country adheres to international human rights treaties.
An ideal constitution would contain only general provisions to avoid the need for repetitive amendments and updates. This would also prevent positive discrimination to the benefit of women. The constitution should specify that all citizens, regardless of gender, are equal before the law. All citizens have equal civil and political rights, equal duties and obligations and equal access to public office without discrimination.
Specific protective provisions should be included in the constitution based on the needs of the community; these provisions should be amended from time to time to reflect changes in society’s values and needs.
The ideal constitution must be consistent in its principles. Morocco is headed in the right direction with its constitutional protection of human rights. The new constitution underscores principles that ensure justice, equality and protection from discrimination. The constitution also responds to some of the demands of the women’s movement. There are some contradictions in the text, however, as the drafters attempted to reconcile the demands of all parties.
The ideal constitution would protect women’s rights as outlined in international conventions. It would prohibit discrimination against women. Women should be able to attain high ranking government positions and even be elected president. Some public resources should be allocated to widows and divorced women or those who have no one to take care of them. The constitution should criminalize any kind of violence against women, including harassment.
The Constitution should define equal opportunities and rights for men and women. It should also establish a quota for female members of parliament and local councils. For example, the Iraqi constitution sets a quota guaranteeing women at least 25 percent of seats in parliament. The Iraqi constitution’s chapter on human rights and dignity is also exemplary.
An ideal constitution would devote more than one article to women. Every article should be drafted with women's rights in mind, and include a mechanism to safeguard those rights. The drafting process should be guided by international human rights conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Key components of the constitution would include gender-sensitive language, a comprehensive article banning discrimination and a bill of rights.
The ideal constitution would guarantee equality between women and men before the law and ensure women’s rights to employment, education and health care. The constitution would also permit a woman to pass her nationality on to her children, and would protect a woman's right to vote and stand for election. One article should set a quota for female members of parliament and local councils so they are able to participate in decision-making.
The Tunisian Code of Personal Status, which came into effect on January 1, 1957, gave women their rights and helped improve their status for more than 60 years. After the 2011 revolution, women expected to retain their rights or add to them, but many people wanted to retract all those gains. An ideal constitution would make women and men equal in rights and duties. It will abolish polygamy, keep or improve the current judicial procedure for divorce and require the consent of both partners to marry. The minimum age for marriage would be 17 years old.
The ideal constitution must ensure women’s representation in no less than 50 percent of positions at every level of government, including the legislative, executive and judicial branches. It should also guarantee women's rights to education, and healthcare. Women form half of society, so the constitution should aim to provide equal opportunities for them. It should also protect women from violence. In order to achieve these goals, women must act together to demand their rights.
An ideal constitution must provide protection for women. It would improve their economic status and ensure their participation and representation in the political process.