Want to cross the border? Not without a note from Dad

New enforcement of an old law means that if an Iraqi woman wants a passport, she needs a male family member's consent.

Published August 21, 2007 6:03PM (EDT)

Here's another bit of bad news for Iraqi women: Stricter enforcement of the law is making it increasingly difficult for them to get passports.

According to the Hartford Courant, there's a national law in Iraq that requires women to get permission from their husband, father, uncle or brother before they can get a passport.

For years local authorities had let enforcement of this rule slide. But now that Iraqi authorities are trying to crack down on forged passports, all passports have to be issued through a central agency in Baghdad -- and that central authority takes the permission requirement seriously. So now women like Rezan Muhammad Ali, who was interviewed by the Courant, are being told that they can't get passports without a male relative's consent. "I almost cried," Ali is quoted as saying. "I'm not a child who needs to ask a guardian's permission."

Cracking down on forged passports is undoubtedly a good thing, but it's causing other problems as well. The fact that the agency is located in Baghdad means that some authorities are loath to drop off passport applications because of security concerns. There are long waiting times, and more and more Iraqis are using bribery to speed up the process.

And for women, the problem extends beyond gender discrimination. As the Courant points out, enforcement of the law is especially bad for women living without male relatives -- a situation that the war has made more common. Women's rights activists like Nasreen Muhammad are taking the issue to the Iraqi parliament in hopes of getting the law abolished. In a country facing as many challenges as Iraq is right now, it seems like changing a law that would cut down on bureaucracy would be a relatively easy task, but that's only if the government is willing to allow women to travel without a note from Dad.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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