Tuesday, February 22, 2005

More on Women in Iraq

Is freedom coming to the Iraqi women? It is most doubtful:

As the Shiite clerics and Kurdish nationalists, who suddenly find themselves in power in Iraq, debate the form and function of the new government, one often ignored group of Iraqis finds itself ambivalent about the future. Although women participated in January's election in unprecedented numbers, a heartening sign that women would have a strong political voice in Iraq, many Iraqi women remain extremely anxious as religious party leaders, with strong ties to Iran, sit down to write a constitution.

Keep in mind that the majority of Iraqis are women. Yet they are in great danger of being totally ignored in the reconstruction effort and in the creation of a new constitution. The latter may be based on the shariah law which would mean lesser rights for women in the areas of family law (including the right to divorce and inheritance rights) as well as in women's rights to participate in the legal process as equal individuals.

But maybe the Iraqi women don't want such equal rights? Maybe this is all Western propaganda? Maybe. But a recent survey in Iraq suggests something different:

What's also dismaying to activists is that the election appears to conflict with what Iraqi women really want. Women for Women International, an American-Iraqi advocacy group, recently conducted a survey of Iraqi women and found that high percentages of them expect a role in the reconstruction of Iraq. "Many Iraqi leaders have claimed that women do not want to be involved in the reconstruction process," Women for Women founder Zainab Salbi said in a statement. "This survey clearly shows that women overwhelmingly believe they should have a seat at the table." The survey also reveals that Iraqi women expect equal rights -- 94 percent want legal protection as women, and 84 percent want to vote on the final constitution.

It's hard to interpret these two phenomena (large numbers of women voting for the religious list of candidates and so many of them also wanting what the religious candidates won't provide) in any other way except as an indication that most Iraqi women (and perhaps most Iraqis) don't know what the religious candidates stand for. This wouldn't be surprising. How could anyone know what democracy entails when it hasn't been tried in the recent past or even in the lifetimes of many of the voters?

I hope that the future is bright for all the Iraqis, both women and men, but this hope is not based on anything realistic. The most likely outcome in Iraq is a civil war followed by a theocracy which will not be good for women and girls. But at least we brought freedom there...