Ms. GRANGER. Mr. Speaker, I have often had the opportunity to speak on this floor on important issues, but none more important than this, because today I am honored to sponsor this resolution in support of the rights of all Iraqis.
It has been said that a nation reveals its character by the values it upholds. In planting the seed of democracy in the deserts of the Middle East, the United States and our allies hope for a rich harvest of freedom for the people of Iraq. Having removed the dictator, the allies have moved to put Iraqis in control of Iraq. Now, as they draft and ratify their Constitution, we will indeed see the character of a new Iraqi nation revealed through the principles it chooses to uphold.
That is why I urge the Iraqi Transitional National Assembly to create a government worthy of its people, a government that represents every Iraqi from every corner of Iraq, be they Sunni or Shia, rich or poor, male or female.
Human rights are not a privilege granted by the few, they are a liberty entitled to all, and human rights, by definition, include the rights of all humans, those in the dawn of life, the dusk of life, or the shadows of life.
Mr. Speaker, the women of Iraq have waited long enough. Having lived in the shadows of Saddam's Iraq, they are eager for the sunlight of a new nation and a new way of life. I have met these women, and I have felt their courage. I have spoken to them, and, more important, I have listened to them. I have heard more than their words, I have heard their dreams; dreams of a peaceful nation where they can raise their children and make decisions on their own and take part in society.
Mr. Speaker, a free nation must be based on human rights. Just as our Founding Fathers built a new Republic based on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, so, too, the Iraqi nation must choose to uphold the values of human rights for all. Indeed, most Iraqis seem to want this.
In the run-up to the historic January 30 election, Iraqis insisted that every third name on the ballot had to be that of a woman. The result? Upon election, 31 percent of the Transitional National Assembly's membership was female, nearly double the membership of the U.S. Congress.
By any definition, this would be quite an achievement. But to understand where Iraq's women are, consider where they have been. To know the horrors of Saddam, look at how Saddam treated the most vulnerable. In Saddam's Iraq, women were abused and assaulted, beaten and battered, raped and relegated to second-class citizens. In Saddam's Iraq, women could not own property; they were property.
Truly, Saddam Hussein was a criminal crying out for international intervention. And these are people, the Iraqi women, crying out for freedom.
History will record that Saddam got what he deserved. The question is, will Iraqi women get what they deserve, what they have earned, what they demand?
When I met with 20 of these women just weeks before the January election, they explained that because they were women, they were virtual targets of the people trying to stop the elections, because they were running for office. More than half had had members of their families kidnapped or assassinated. Almost all had to have bodyguards. Many had been in exile for years because of their beliefs, their education, and their choice to have a career. Yet they persevered.
They persevered because they knew their election was proof that freedom works, and they persevered because they knew that the more women elected, the less the chance of a Saddam- [Page: H6688]
style policy toward women would ever again come to Iraq.
Proudly, defiantly, and amazingly, these women had the courage of their convictions and changed history. Some of the very women we met with before the election who were so fearful of the outcome and proposed violence led their village walking miles to cast their votes.
Then weeks after that vote, I led another delegation to join 150 Iraqi women who were leaders in their communities and their sects who came to a conference to hear us talk about the principles and practices of democracy.
Women all over Iraq were given the opportunity to apply to be a part of that conference. Do the women of Iraq want democracy? Well, 1,200 of them signed applications hoping to be chosen for this conference. That is right: 1,200 Iraqi women put their names in a document stating who they were and where they lived, that they wanted to learn about democracy from the United States of America.
But while the election of so many Iraqi women last January gives us great hope, recent reports about the drafting of the constitution give us great concerns. With so many reports and rumors, perhaps it is best to take inventory of what we know, as well as what we fear.
We know that Islam allows for rights for women, but we fear the interpretation of religious law might unfairly discriminate against women. We know that a policy of equal rights for women in the constitution would safeguard Iraqi women today and for generations to come, but we fear that extremist elements might prevent the passage of such a constitutional protection.
And we note that the surest way to limit the future and the progress of Iraq is to limit the rights and protections of women. But we fear that women may not be allowed even basic rights on matters of marriage, divorce, economic opportunity, or political involvement.
Mr. Speaker, the people of Iraq deserve better and the women of Iraq demand more. Let me be blunt. American troops have come so far, sacrificed so much, persevered so long to see the tyranny of an unlawful dictator replaced by the tyranny of legal oppression for women. A free Iraq must be free for all Iraqis.
A democracy in the Middle East must be more than a democracy in name only; it must live out its principles. Freedom is not something that can be limited or divided or restricted. It applies to anyone and everyone anywhere and everywhere.
So I put forward this resolution and urge my colleagues not to just stand with me but to stand with the women of Iraq, stand with women everywhere who desire the freedom that we fought for and continue to fight for in Iraq.
Those brave women are writing bold new chapters in the story of freedom. In doing so, they are part of an ever-growing, ever-evolving story.
Mrs. TAUSCHER. Mr. Speaker, I rise to voice my deep concern over the rights of women in Iraq and urge adoption of this resolution. I am very pleased to join my colleagues, the gentlewoman from Texas (Ms. Granger) and the gentleman from Nebraska (Mr. Osborne) who are my cochairs in the Iraqi Women's Caucus.
I know they share my unwavering commitment to ensuring the success of our efforts to stabilize Iraq. As we speak, the Iraqi Constitution is being drafted, and preliminary drafts are being circulated around Baghdad and in the United States.
This is the real test of our efforts to bring democracy and stability to Iraq. My colleagues and I have spent countless hours in Iraq, in Jordan prior to the January 30 election, meeting with women candidates, and here in Washington meeting with some of the winners of Iraqi women whose rights are now apparently under attack from extremists in their own country.
The attempts by fundamentalists to insert Sharia, a restrictive form of Islamic law, into the constitution, represents an aggressive and intolerable assault on women's rights. The current transitional administrative law states that Islam is to be considered a source of legislation, but not the only source, and that discrimination against an Iraqi citizen of gender is prohibited.
But current drafts of the new constitution provide legal rights for women as long as they do not violate Islamic law. Many Iraqi women fear, as we do, that enshrining Sharia would sharply curb women's rights in matters such as divorce, family inheritance, travel, professional opportunities, and other areas.
One draft of the constitution also lifted the requirement that at least 25 percent of the Iraqi parliament be women. We cannot allow these drafts to be the final word on August 15. We cannot bring liberty and freedom to only half of Iraq's population, the men.
We owe to it the American men and women in uniform who have lost their lives and to the people of Iraq that we do all we can to protect women's rights in that country.
Today we have an opportunity to demonstrate that Americans will stand strong in support of Iraqi women and their efforts to fully participate in their new democracy. I urge my colleagues to support this resolution.
Mrs. MALONEY. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding me the time and for his extraordinary leadership on human rights for people around the world.
And I know that he joins his voice, his strength, his wisdom in working with the Iraqi Women's Caucus to do absolutely everything to protect the women in Iraq.
Today's USA news report has an article that states that the government may designate Islam Sharia as a main source of legislation in the country according to a draft. This is incredibly troubling that the rights of women may be turned back. It would be a terrible step for the women if their rights are actually restricted under this new constitution.
This resolution which we are sending to the government is tremendously important, and I would like to be associated with the comments on both sides of the aisle.
Just last week, we met with women leaders from Iraq. Two of them were official members of the government, and they were major leaders in their communities. They expressed their tremendous concern, and they appealed to us to keep their names confidential, showing the fear that they feel for retaliation.
I have corresponded with several Iraqi women. One was murdered, another one had a tremendous threat on her life, and they are working with incredible strength for their country and for the rights of their families.
I would say that any country that protects their women is a stronger country, and Iraq will be a stronger country if women are able to preserve their position. One of the women we met with was a professional, and she had been denied her job.
Under Sharia, women will lose many of the rights that they already have. As one of them said to me, and I quote: ``It is horrible. We are concerned. You must do something. The time is now.''
August 15 they will be coming forward with the final draft. They will be voting in October, and we must move forward. Just yesterday, along with 40 of my colleagues, I sent a letter to President Bush urging him and the State Department to do everything they possibly can to encourage the drafters of the constitution to include specific rights for women, thereby ensuring their equality and their full participation in the new Iraq country.
Under the former regime, they were educated, participated in the workforce, and played a role in the government. And since the end of the Saddam Hussein dictatorship, women have served and are serving in the national assembly as cabinet members and in local governments across their country.
I have had the opportunity twice to visit Iraq, to visit our soldiers, to meet with officials, and always to meet with women leaders. They are concerned. They are working hard, and with like-minded men are trying to preserve their role.
If they lose their position in the constitution, it will be incredibly difficult to reverse that. So it is critically important, and it would be a tragic irony [Page: H6689]
if women now began to lose ground. There might be full participation and equal treatment under the law for women in Iraq, and I know that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I hope they will join the Women's Iraqi Caucus in expressing our strong support and solidarity with the women of Iraq
as they fight for the rights to which they are entitled.
I would just like to close that it would be really a tragedy beyond words if women lose their standing in the constitution and lose the firm grounded protection of a constitution. This is critically important. I urge all of my colleagues to join us in supporting this important resolution.
Mr. Speaker, I include the following for the RECORD:
Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Speaker, I yield 5 minutes to the gentleman from Nebraska (Mr. Osborne), who has been a true leader on Iraq issues, on democratic governance, on women's issues in Iraq.
Mr. OSBORNE. Mr. Speaker, H. Res. 383 encourages the transitional assembly of Iraq to adopt a constitution that grants women equal rights. It was authored by the gentlewoman from Texas (Ms. Granger) and also the gentlewoman from California (Mrs. Tauscher) and myself, who are cochairs of the Iraqi Women's Caucus.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to say just a word about the Iraqi Women's Caucus. This was formed a couple of years ago by former Representative Jennifer Dunn and myself, with the belief that Iraqi women are critical to holding the social fabric of Iraq together and bringing Sunnis and Kurds and Shias together.
And as we have talked to them, we found that this is the case, that this is true. Because many of them are married. Sunnis are married to Shias and they have other sects within their families. And they consistently tell us that the divisions are not what people think in the United States.
But we think that women are the key and probably as important as guns and bullets and tanks and helicopters to achieving a peaceful resolution in Iraq. Some of us visited Jordan in March. And we met with 150 Iraqi women near the Dead Sea. These women drove from many points within Iraq. Two groups were shot at on the way, which shows you the resolution that they had, because they continued on their journey.
We visited with many women's groups from Iraq, in the United States and Iraq, as we have traveled. I visited with prime minister al-Jaafari in Iraq in March. And I asked him this question: I said, will you give Iraqi women a prominent role in the government? And the answer that he gave me was, yes, that he would do that, that he would ensure that.
So as many people are aware, one-third of the 275 seats in the transitional national assembly have been given to women, which is a very good thing. But on May 10 of this year, 55 members of the national assembly were chosen to draft a permanent constitution for Iraq by August 15.
Of that 55, approximately 10 or 11 were women, which again does not sound too bad. But as we met with Iraqi women last week, they said the women that were chosen were among the most conservative, among the most fundamentalist group within the national assembly, and therefore they were really concerned about what was happening in regard to Sharia.
And so as everyone knows, Sharia is Islamic law, and this was what was written in a draft of the constitution [Page: H6690]
that was given to us by these women. And in the eighth article this is what it says: ``The government vouches for women's duties toward family and their work in the society, equalizing her to men in all political, educational, social and economic fields.'' So far so good.
All sounds good. But then there is this last phrase, without infracting Islam, which means that whatever rights a women has cannot be in contradiction to Islamic law. This was the thing that concerned these women so much.
As was mentioned earlier, one of those women who came here was a judge, who had been installed on the court, but was removed from her judgeship because of Sharia.
There is great concern at this point. So this resolution urges Iraqi leaders to accord Iraqi women equal rights under the Constitution.
Let me just close, Mr. Speaker, by saying this: Iraqi women as we meet with them are really concerned about security. We do not want to minimize that. We do not want to pretend that Iraq is a real safe place. They are really concerned about the infrastructure, and there are some problems in the infrastructure. But when asked if they would prefer life under Saddam or if they would prefer that the United States pull out, they will almost unanimously say things like this: Things are better now.
We see help for the future. We have a hope. We see a brighter future. Please do not leave now. Thank you for removing Saddam.
So even though things are difficult, there is hope. And as long as you have hope, we think that there is a brighter future. And I think that women are truly a major part of whatever resolution we may receive in Iraq that would be of an optimistic nature.
Mr. LANTOS. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself the balance of my time.
Mr. Speaker, may I just say the enormous sacrifices paid by the American people to liberate Iraq both in blood and in treasure were not made to create a society that discriminates against women. Our voice is clear and united. We want the women of Iraq to have equal rights with the men of Iraq in that new unfolding and developing society. I urge all of my colleagues to support this resolution.
Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.