Iraqi women on verge of revolution

Women's rights activists are particularly disappointed by the election. "The results are disturbing indeed," offers Naba al-Barrak of New Hope for Women, an Iraq-based group. "People chose to vote for sectarian reasons, which is very sad." Her group had hoped that voters would find the liberal agenda of the more secular parties attractive, while also trying to break the Arab mentality of supporting one's tribe or clan over one's individual rights. Yet the portrait of the country that emerged from the election, she says, "is the face of tribal loyalties."

Perhaps the most outspoken activist is Yanar Mohammed of the Iraqi Communist Party. It's pretty clear why a Shiite ticket, endorsed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and led by a coalition of religious groups headed by Abdul Hakim Aziz, would not be happy with Mohammed, a woman whose newspaper recently used a sardonic editorial to propose that if Iraqi men are allowed to take multiple wives, then Iraqi women should then opt for multiple husbands.

"Iraqi women can be quite outspoken," Mohammed says. "And there's not as much fear among them as you see in places like Kuwait, Saudi and other Arab countries." Yet she is cynical about the prospect of women gaining equal rights under a new Iraqi government.

"Our position was to boycott the election because the winner was going to be a cleric from Iran -- bred with its version of Islamic fascism -- or Allawi, a Baathist," she says. "Not one of them will do anything to help women. And how can a people in search of a secular state have an election in which [Sistani] mandated participation as a religious duty?"

Women, Mohammed adds, continue to suffer under religious rule. "The moment Saddam's regime closed down, Iraq became infiltrated by [Sunni] Wahhabi extremists, Iranian intelligence and others, who are heavily funded from outside Iraq," she says. "This is what we see all over the world, political Islam imposing religion on politics. It started with sanctions here [in the 1990s] and continues all throughout the Muslim world. When you are isolated from the rest of the world, religion becomes your way out."

"I would like a socialist Iraq free of mention of gender, race, and religion," she says. "Start with a secular government and adopt the Geneva Convention on Human Rights. We want to end the American occupation of Iraq, so the Wahhabis and Iranian intelligence people stop coming here."

When I point out that it seems unlikely that the foreign jihadis and Iraqi Sunni and Shiite radicals will retreat from their battles when the Americans leave, she disagrees. "The American presence gives legitimacy to these radicals in the eyes of the people," she argues. "It's like the Americans are a big hive of honeybees. The bear will leave when the honey is gone."


Goodness, I don't have much hope for the women of Iraq.

One thing this reminds me of is: while Saddam was a brutal dictator guilty of genocide, he on the other hand had a regime by which women were near equal to men - comparatively speaking, and in the context of a region where extreme muslim religion dominates and women are treated like cattle.

Women weren't forced to wear the veil, they could lead a normal life, have a job - indeed a big part of the schooling and university staff were women.

Also, foreigners were treated as normal ppl, and indeed there were significant pockets of European communities, christian or non-religious, who lived there and made it their homes.

Just thought I'd mention that since it is something we obviously never hear from Bush and his cronies. His great  achievement in *liberating* Iraq never includes all the things that DID work in Iraq and are now history.

So I guess the result will now be stepping back 5 centuries in women's rights. Thanks Bush! 

Posted by WhyNot
2/25/2005 08:25:00 am  
From Amnesty International

In a report entitled "Iraq -- Decades of Suffering," Amnesty International said that while the systematic repression under Saddam had ended, it had been replaced by increased murders, and sexual abuse -- including by U.S. forces.

Amnesty said several women detained by U.S. troops had spoken in interviews with them of beatings, threats of rape, humiliating treatment and long periods of solitary confinement.

The Pentagon said it had not seen the report, but took any allegations of detainee abuse seriously.

Amnesty said women's rights activists and political leaders had also been targeted by armed insurgent groups.

Women continued to suffer legal discrimination under laws that granted husbands effective impunity to beat their wives and treated so-called "honor" killers leniently, the group said.

"Within their own communities, many women and girls remain at risk of death from male relatives if they are accused of behavior held to have brought dishonor on the family," Amnesty said, noting some attempts by religious zealots to make the laws even more repressive against women.  

Posted by Dianne
2/25/2005 12:39:00 pm  
"The Pentagon said it had not seen the report ",

I guess they don't have computers and internet at the Pentagon.

Posted by WhyNot
2/25/2005 02:42:00 pm  



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