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Insecurity for Women in Iraq
A young woman who calls herself Riverbend, wrote on August, 24 2003: “I’m a computer science graduate. Before the war I was working in an Iraqi database/software company in Baghdad as a programmer/network administrator. It was tedious, it was back- breaking, it was geeky, and it was wonderful. No matter what anyone heard, females in Iraq were a lot better off than females in other parts of the Arab world—and some parts of the Western world. We had equal salaries. We were doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, professors, architects, programmers, and more. Now females can no longer leave their homes alone” (river- bendblog.blogspot.com).
She is one of the bloggers from Iraq keeping daily web journals on the impact of the war on their lives and the lives of those around them. As a female, Riverbend also gives insight into the struggles and fears of Iraqi women who are fighting their own war in the chaos and lawlessness that is now Iraq.
What she fears is the rise in fundamentalism: “Before the war about 50 percent of college students were female and more than 50 percent of the work force was composed of women. Not so any more. We are seeing a terrifying increase in fundamentalism in Iraq…. Before the occupation I more or less dressed the way I wanted to. I lived in jeans and cotton trousers and comfortable shirts. Now I don’t dare to leave the house without a long skirt and loose shirt (preferably with long sleeves). A girl wearing jeans risks being attacked, abducted, or insulted by fundamentalists who have been ‘liberated’.”
She has a hope that the war may one day be over and that the U.S. forces will, at some point, leave Iraq. Hope changes to fear at the thought of a future of hijab-wearing domesticity under fundamentalist dictates. The post-war 2003 rise of conservative Islamist organizations has put Iraqi women at risk of losing still more of the rights and freedoms that they had during much of Saddam Hussein’s rule, such as the right to receive an education, work, drive, vote, and hold political office, according to Human Rights Watch (“Climate of Fear,” Human Rights Watch, July 2003).
Post-war insecurity has left many women unable to leave their homes without a male family member to escort them. Prior to the 2003 war, Iraqi women and girls were able to move about independently. Iraqi women were among the most educated in the region. They were part of the labor force and visible at almost all levels of state institutions and bureaucracy. These days, however, religious intolerance, violent burglaries, mafia-like gangs that roam the cities at night, increased sexual violence, as well as militant resistance and U.S. snipers, have pushed women into the back ground.
At least 400 women and girls as young as 8 years old were raped during or immediately after the war, according to HRW. Under-reporting due to the stigma against victims of sexual violence means that the real figure was probably much higher. In Iraq, women are still viewed as the ultimate reservoir of traditional values and any stain on their honor is punishable by death. Fear of rape is therefore aggravated by the occurrence of “honor killings.” The family members of women who are known to have, or often only suspected of having, “violated” codes of behavior, particularly with respect to keeping their virginity before marriage, may kill the woman in order to restore the honor of the family. This phenomenon is stronger in rural areas, yet lenient sentences are given throughout the country to perpetrators for reasons of “honorable motivation.”
Discrimination against women is banned in Iraq’s Constitution, but laws still contain provisions that deny women rights and control of their lives or fail to protect them from violence. The Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) of March 2004—effectively an interim constitution—states: “All Iraqis are equal in their rights without regard to gender, sect, opinion, belief, nationality, religion or origin, and they are all equal before the law. Discrimination against an Iraqi citizen on the basis of his gender, nationality, religion, or origin is prohibited” (Article 12). However, the TAL contains no reference to the extensive legal reforms needed to remove discriminatory provisions from penal, personal status, and nationality laws.
Despite Iraq’s obligations under international human rights treaties and its own Constitution, women in Iraq continue to face various forms of discrimination in legislation and practice. Women have also been at risk of torture or ill-treatment as detainees in the custody of U.S.-led forces. Reports about the torture and inhuman treatment of detainees in Abu Ghraib prison and other U.S. detention centers in Iraq have included allegations that women have been subjected to sexual abuse, possibly including rape. Several women detainees have spoken to Amnesty International after their release from detention on condition of anonymity. They reported beatings, threats of rape, humiliating treatment, and long periods of solitary confinement (“Iraq: Decades of Suffering, Now Women Deserve Better,” Amnesty Interna- tional, February 2005).
When violence and conflict erupt, women tend to suffer in gender-specific ways in addition to the suffering endured by all the population. Yet, any mention of the hardships that Iraqi women are forced to face needs to pay tribute to the dignity, humanity, and courage of these women. They are fighting to survive and take care of their children in ingenious ways.
Household management in the context of electricity cuts and water-shortages is time-consuming, exhausting, and frustrating, yet these women are doing it, often as widows. In spite of male escorts, women are still demanding to leave their homes and maintain some semblance of normality in their lives. In the face of death threats, women are emerging to demand increased rights and liberties and a say in the reconstruction of their country.
Iraqi women led the group of witnesses traveling to the World Tribunal on Iraq in Istanbul to join human rights lawyers, professors, reporters, and experts who came together from all over the world to document the injustices occurring in Iraq (www.worldtribunal.org). Iraqi writer and journalist Hana Ibrahim, currently chair of Women’s Will organization, confirmed, “From the day that the occupation started in Iraq there was a systematic violation of women and their rights. They were kidnaped, raped, and even taken to other countries to work.
Ibrahim said, “We will continue resisting in Iraq for you as well as for ourselves because America is not the fate of humanity. They are not the power to rule over the world in future and we can create another world. We can create a more enlightened world for women and we would ask you to look at the world from women’s eyes because women’s eyes see through their hearts.”
The day following the Tribunal, President Bush was at Fort Bragg, North Carolina where he said in a speech that the U.S. is helping to build in Iraq “the institutions of a free society, a society based on freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and equal justice under law.” Riverbend retorted on July 1, “We’re so free, we often find ourselves pri- soners of our homes.”
Caroline Muscat is a freelance writer working in communications for international non-governmental organizations. She was the communications coordinator for the World Tribunal on Iraq.
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; firstname.lastname@example.org; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; email@example.com; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.