Women's rights in Iraq
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Women’s social status and rights in Iraq have been violated and thrown aside for many years. Making up 65% of the Iraqi population, women are a vital part of the culture. They make up 70% of the agricultural workforce
With an estimated population of 22,675,617, Iraq is a male dominated society. Although there are many classes and castes within the culture, the official language of Iraq is Arabic and Kurdish.
To appreciate women’s achievements in this society, it is important to look at the history of their position in the society and how wars and successions in dynasties and governments have affected women's roles.
During the seventh century the lamas as a part of their conquest were fighting the Persians, who were defeated. As Doreen Ingrams, the author of The Awakened: Women in Iraq, noticed, “Arab women [were] shown in the mural tending the wounded or burying the dead. They [were] wearing black clothes similar in design to those worn by the soldiers, however, are in white. In the early days of Islam [women] were considered to be ‘partners’ both in war and in peace” (p. 20). It was a time when women’s help was needed. In particular, a woman called Amina bint Qais “at the age of seventeen was the youngest woman to lead a medical team in one of these early battles.:21 After their victory, the Arabs that began ruling Mesopotamia named that country Iraq. In 750 AD, during the Abbasid Caliphate, women “became renowned for their brains as well as their beauty” (p. 22). However, even then many girls were being captured as slaves. Despite that fact, “many of the well-known women of the time were slave girls who had been trained from childhood in music, dancing and poetry. Another feminine figure to be remembered for her achievements was Tawaddud, “a slave girl who was said to have been bought at great cost by Haroun al Rasid because she had passed her examinations by the most eminent scholars in astronomy, medicine, law, philosophy, music, history, Arabic grammar, literature, theology and chess” (p. 23). Moreover, among the most prominent feminine figures was Shuhda who was known as “the Scholar” or “the Pride of Women” during the twelfth century in Baghdad. Despite the recognition of women’s aptitudes during the Abbasid dynasty, all these were reversed in 1258 when Baghdad was attacked by the Mongols. After that, the city of Baghdad was “given over to an orgy of massacre, plunder and devastation [...]”. With the departure of the Mongols a succession of Persian rivalries followed until 1553, when the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman captured Baghdad and its provinces, which became parts of the Turkish empire.:25
The Turks “had inflexible rules concerning women. They enforced the segregation of the sexes, the education of girls was limited and any importance attached to women was generally attributable to the positions held by their husbands”.
However, all these ended with the fall of the Turks. Britain was given the Mandate for administering Iraq by the League of Nations and therefore a new era began in Iraq under British rule. In the 1920s there was a “major uprising where women took part” (p. 27). In 1932, Iraq was declared independent and in 1958 was declared a Republic as a member of the League of Nations. As Doreen Ingrams argues, instability was dominating the region until 1968 when “the Ba’ath Party took control over the President Al Bakr and Iraq began to enjoy a period of stability” (28). Saddam Hussein succeeded Al Bakr as President in 1979.
Education for a woman
Iraq established an education system in 1921 and by the 1970s education became public and free at all levels. This changed in the 1990s when the first Gulf War ensued and economic sanctions caused educational institutions to rapidly deteriorate.
By law, a woman has to be eighteen years or older to get married. Marriage and family are necessities for economic needs, social control and mutual protection within the family.
In March 2008 an Iraqi 17-year-old girl was violently murdered by her father and two older brothers for becoming friendly with a British soldier. When her mother ran away out of defiance of such a cruel act, she was found dead on her street, shot in the head twice. The father was released after two hours of questioning from the Iraqi police force and was neither charged nor tried with the murder of his own daughter, although he had confessed to killing her.
Divorce is a very common practice in Iraq.
Abuse of women since the invasion.
Many people feel it is due to the ongoing terror wrought in this land that brings so much oppression to women. Prior to the arrival of forces in Iraq in 1991, Iraqi women were free to wear whatever they liked and go wherever the chose.:105-107 The Iraqi constitution of 1970 gave women equality and liberty in the Muslim world, but since the invasion, women’s rights have fallen to the lowest in Iraqi history.:105-107
Since the invasion in 2003 "Iraqi women have been brutally attacked, kidnapped and intimidated from participating in the Iraqi society". Yanar Mohammed, an Iraqi feminist, "asserts unequivocally that war and occupation have cost Iraqi women their legal standing and their everyday freedom of dress and movement". She continues by arguing that "The first losers in all these were women".
Arising from their fear of being raped and harassed, women have to wear not only the veil, but must also to wear the black dress in order not to attract attention. In an online edition of Guardian, the reporter Mark Lattiner reports that despite promises and hopes given to the Iraqi population that their lives were going to change, Iraqi women's lives "have become immeasurably worse, with rapes, burnings and murders [now] as a daily occurrence."
Valentine M. Moghadam, author of Modernizing Women: Gender and Social Changes in the Middle East, argues that women were the first whose social life was affected by the economy and in cases of war. The "onset of the war with Iran brought about a toughening of the state's position on women." Women were not allowed to travel without their husbands, fathers, or guardians and their role was to bear children. In general in cases of war, as Nadje Sadig Al-Ali, author of Iraqi Women: Untold Stories from 1948 to the Present, argues, "women carried the conflicting double burden of being the main motors of the state bureaucracy and the public sector, the main breadwinners and heads of households but also the mothers of 'future soldiers.':168 Moreover, Saddam Hussein, "in an attempt to maintain legitimacy after the Gulf War by appeasing conservative patriarchal constituencies, brought in anti-woman legislation, such as the 1990 presidential decree granting immunity to men who had committed honour crimes.":202 By legalizing these so-called honor killings, women's roles and their social status in the society were further undermined during Saddam Hussein's presidency.
As noted by Yasmin Husein, author of Women in Iraq, the traditional role of women in Iraq is confined mainly to domestic responsibilities and nurturing the family. The wide scale destruction of Iraq's infrastructure (i.e., sanitation, water supply and electricity) as a result of war and sanctions, worsened women's situation. Women, in the process, assumed extra burdens and domestic responsibilities in society, as opposed to their male counterparts.
Women in the Government and Military
The Iraqi Constitution states that a quarter of the government must be made up of women. However, the women that hold position in the government still have little to no power. Often, the women in government are just relatives of other leaders. Serious women leaders in Iraq are unheard of. But Iraq has been a leader on women’s rights for quite some time. In the 1950s it became the first Arab country to have a female minister and to have a law that gave women the ability to ask for divorces. Women attained the right to vote and run for public office in 1980. In 1986, Iraq created CEDAW, the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
However, during Saddam Hussein’s rule, Iraq took many steps backwards in terms of women’s rights. Under his rule, women had no form of governmental power. Women had to lobby the American administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, to mandate the requirement of a quarter of the Parliament’s members being women. There is also a large divide among the women themselves, some more modern women wanting a larger percent of women in the Iraqi government still, and some more traditional women believing that they and others are not qualified enough to hold any sort of position in the Iraqi government. Another existing issue is the increasing amount of illiterate females in the country. In 1987 approximately 75 percent of Iraqi women were literate. In 2000, Iraq had the lowest regional adult literacy levels, with the percentage of literate women at less than 25 percent. This makes it increasingly difficult to put educated women in a position of power.
Although there are many issues with the current spread of power among genders in Iraq, they are one of the more Westernized Arab countries. But, there is hope for females in Iraq. After Hussein's fall in 2003, women’s leaders in Iraq saw it as a key opportunity to gain more power in Parliament. The leaders asked for a quota that would have seen that at least 40 percent of the Parliament to be women . In the 2010 National Elections, a group of twelve women started their own party based on women’s issues, such as a job’s program for Iraq’s 700,000 widows. The United State’s involvement in Iraq was seen as detrimental to women. Since Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was elected as Prime Minister of Iraq, not one women has been appointed to his senior cabinet.
Many women across the country, especially young women, are afraid to voice their political voices for fear of harming their reputations. But when they do become active politically, they are seen as being influenced by the United States and trying to push a liberal agenda. Constitutionally, women lost a number of key rights after the United States entered Iraq. The Family Statutes law, which guarantees women equal rights when it comes to marriage, divorce, inheritance, and custody, was replaced by one that gave power to religious leaders and allowed them to dictate family matters according to their interpretation of their chosen religious text.
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