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.

FOCUS: The Saudi Election

By Jodi Wynn, intern
Many Saudis were skeptical when their government — an absolute monarchy — announced it would be holding the first in a series of municipal elections on February 10, 2005. To many, the attempt at democracy seemed to be an effort to appease the West and reformists. Despite the fact that half the council seats and official government positions will be appointed, the election is unprecedented, and may represent a major change in the idea of government in Saudi Arabia. But there are many factors that may undermine the process. The exclusion of women from the polls brought condemnation from Western media, but was described as only practical by a Saudi journalist.

FOCUS: Election Reform

Research by Allison Bloch, Intern 
The controversies of the 2000 presidential election provoked heated debate and new legislation intended to prevent similar problems in the future. In 2004, with electoral irregularities only growing more widespread, calls for reform have renewed appeal. Campaign finance, the electoral college and disenfranchisement are just a few of the issues under debate. will be following this issue throughout 2005. Consider this short survey just the tip of the iceberg.