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Iraqi women say freedoms are slipping away

Bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq. Wasn’t that one of Chimpy’s prime justifications to overthrowing Saddam? Women’s rights groups have been warning that without specific constitutional protections, women in the “New Iraq” were going to suffer a rollback of rights. The radical zealots are making sure that the modern Iraqi woman knows her place, and the culture of anti-feminism is being fomented. (Middle East Online):

“Women cannot walk freely out in the street,” said activist Ban Jamil, who directs the Rasafa Branch of Assyrian Women Union, a local non-governmental organisation in Baghdad.

“Women face lack of respect when they walk uncovered,” said Jamil, a Christian, who said women are insulted if they show too much skin or walk in public without wearing the Islamic veil, or hijab, to cover their hair. She blamed “imported extremist doctrines, which were never experienced in the past” for the new restrictions.

The tide of Islamisation has risen in Iraq as fundamentalist Shiite parties have come to power following the ouster of former leader Saddam Hussein. Although not enforced by the newly established laws, which were written under US patronage, a conservative dress code is widely observed in much of the war-torn country.

The backsliding begins, and is this being covered in the press? Nope. As the calls for a pullout mount, it’s clear that people are willing to let Iraqi women pay the price for a failed war, as extremism casts a shadow over their freedoms — with U.S. approval.

We cover and change the way we dress unwillingly due to pressure,” said Jinan Mubarak, a Muslim who heads the Iraqi Centre for Training and Employing Women in Baghdad. She said some neighbourhoods are off-limits for women if unveiled, saying that women like herself are forced to change their behaviour in such environments.

Iraqi state television – a shopwindow of the new regime – allows some female presenters to appear unveiled, despite a clear Shiite influence in its programmes.

However, religious zealots who were curbed under Saddam’s secular grip can operate freely now, as evidenced by one notice billboarded in a Baghdad street near a church, Jamil said.

To all unveiled Muslim sisters and Christian sisters: You should wear a veil because Virgin Mary used to be veiled,” it said.

Women are also concerned that the American influence in running post-Saddam Iraq plays a major role in protecting women rights, and that a future departure of US troops might result in further radicalisation. “This might regrettably be the case, as much as we would like to see the Americans out of Iraq,” said Mubarak.

The fig leaf that the U.S. government clings to is the claim that the Iraqi constitution, as drafted, is that is one of the most progressive in the region. To the women, the language is murky, and their ability to participate fully in government affairs is limited.

US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad has called Iraq’s draft constitution the most progressive document in the Muslim world, claiming it ensured women’s rights.

“Women have the right to participate fully in public activities,” he said in August, pointing out that 25 percent of parliament seats were reserved for women. But activists say that the current female MPs do not represent women’s advocates and were brought in by male-dominated political parties to fill the 25 percent quota.

“These were voted in to fill the quota… None of them serves in the politburo of any of their parties… They are mere mouthpieces,” Jamil said. “We fear the same might happen in the next elections,” she added, claiming that independent women have very slim chance of making it into the national assembly.

It’s quite easy to cut and run when you have equal rights that you take for granted. The Iraqi women have few advocates as their rights slip away due to the cowboy decision of our President to ride in and get the man that wanted to kill his daddy. He had no exit plan, he had no plan that really amounted to ensuring freedom for all Iraqis. It falls by the wayside as the polls dive, and the body count rises.

W is for women left behind.

See my earlier post, “The Iraq mess and the rights of women.”

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding