FOCUS: Women in Iraq

By Jodi Wynn, intern

As democracy takes a step in Iraq, traditional gender roles and the strong ties between religion and government are major obstacles for women.

According to a recent report by Amnesty International, women are more confined and limited since the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003.

Although the report acknowledged that women faced institutionalized violence prior to Saddam’s fall, it also noted that since the occupation they wear headscarves more often, and avoid school and work due to fears of fundamentalist reprisals.

The report also raised concerns of gender-based intimidation and sexual threats by U.S. soldiers, including against female political detainees.

Washington said it would review the findings.

Fears that U.S.-imposed democracy will further enable religious extremism have been offset by the election of women to 31 percent of the 275 seats in the transitional National Assembly.

This exceeded the mandate in the interim constitution for 25 percent representation by women, and according on one columnist, has the potential to “shake up [the] Arab world.”

This was not the first such triumph. In March 2004, activists successfully halted the passage of Resolution 137, a measure that would have turned religious codes for women’s behavior into civil law.

But strong religious loyalties in the new government may prevent fair representation.

Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim, head of the United Iraqi Alliance and a powerful member to the interim Governing Council, was a proponent of Resolution 137 and is a major concern to women’s rights activists.

It remains unknown whether women will be included in the committee that drafts the final Iraqi constitution.

Salbi, founder of the Iraqi group Women for Women, worries that “if women are not represented in the drafting of the constitution, they’re going to lose their rights.”

Keyword search (women iraq): Google News, Yahoo News

“Iraq: Decades of Suffering, Now women deserve better”
Amnesty International, February 22, 2005

“Post-Saddam women ‘no better off'”
Al Jazeera, February 23, 2005

“Iraqi women on the verge of revolution”, February 22, 2005

“Victory for women in Iraq may shake up Arab world”
Detroit Free Press, February 24, 2005

“Women’s rights put to test in Iraq”
Boston Globe, January 30, 2005

“UM Professor concerned about Shiite win in Iraq election”
Montana Kaimin, February 24, 2005

“Myopia about Bush dismissed Iraq women making history”
Orlando Sentinel, February 24, 2005

“Al-Hakim could be key to united Iraq”
Associated Press, February 13, 2005

“Iraq Minister Calls Constitution a Triumph for Women”
U.N. Wire, March 9, 2004

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