Dahr Jamail on the Plight of Iraqi Women

It’s Hard Being a Woman

Dahr Jamail and Ali Al-Fadhily

BAGHDAD, Dec. 5 (IPS) – Once one of the best countries for women’s
rights in the Middle East, Iraq has now become a place where women fear
for their lives in an increasingly fundamentalist environment.*

Prior to the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, Iraqi women
enjoyed rights under the Personal Status Law since Jul. 14, 1958, the
day Iraqis overthrew the British-installed monarchy.

Under this law they were able to settle civil suits in courts,
unfettered by religious influences. Iraqi women had many of the rights
enjoyed by women in western countries.

The end of monarchy brought a regime in which women began to work as
professors, doctors and other professionals. They took government and
ministerial positions and enjoyed growing rights even through the
dictatorial reign of Saddam Hussein and his Ba’ath Party.

“Our rights had been hard to obtain in a country with a tradition of
firm male control,” Dr. Iman Robeii, professor of psychology from
Fallujah told IPS in Baghdad. Iraqi women have traditionally done all
the housework, and assisted children with school work, she said. On top
of that about 30 percent of women had been engaged in social activities.

“But a tragic collapse took place after the U.S. invasion of Iraq and
the so-called Islamists seized power to place new obstacles in the way
of women’s march towards improvement,” she said.

A significant event was the Dec. 29, 2003 decision by the U.S.-installed
Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) to pass a bill which almost cancelled the
Personal Status Law, 45 years after it had been passed.

Under Resolution 137 Iraqi women would rely on religious institutions
for personal matters such as marriage and divorce, as opposed to
recourse to civilian courts that they could access before the invasion.

Women across Iraq saw the IGC move as one of the first hazardous steps
towards implementation of a fundamentalist Islamic law. The bill did not
pass, but the slide into Sharia (Islamic law) had already taken root
through much of Shia-dominated southern Iraq and also some
Sunni-dominated areas of central Iraq.

Resolution 137 was defeated in March 2004. A new Iraqi constitution has
been introduced, but the adoption of the constitution has not helped
protect women’s rights.

Yanar Mohammed, one of Iraq’s staunchest women’s rights advocates,
believes the constitution neither protects women nor ensures their basic
rights. She blames the United States for abdicating its responsibility
to help develop a pluralistic democracy in Iraq.

“The U.S. occupation has decided to let go of women’s rights,” Mohammed
told reporters. “Political Islamic groups have taken southern Iraq, are
fully in power there, and are using the financial support of Iran to
recruit troops and allies. The financial and political support from Iran
is why the Iraqis in the south accept this, not because the Iraqi people
want Islamic law.”

Mohammed believes the drafting of the Iraqi constitution was “not for
the interest of the Iraqi people” and instead was based on concessions
to ethnic and sectarian groups.

“The Kurds want Kirkuk (an oil-rich city they consider the capital of
Iraqi Kurdistan), and the Shias want the Islamic Republic of Iraq, just
like Iran’s,” she said. “The genie is out of the bottle in terms of
political Islam (by Shias) and the resistance (by Sunnis). America will
tolerate any conclusion so they can leave, even if it means destroying
women’s rights and civil liberties.They have left us a regime like the

A woman judge told IPS that she and her female colleagues could not go
to work any more because the current system does not allow for a female

Iraqi NGO activists have also criticised the new constitution for
depriving women of leadership posts in the country. “The constitution
mentions some rights for women, but those in power laugh when they are
asked to put it to practice,” she said. Like the woman judge, she too
did not want to be named.

The key element in the Iraqi constitution that is dangerous for women’s
rights is Article 2 which states “Islam is the official religion of the
state and is a basic source of legislation.” Subheading A under Article
2 states that “No law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed
rules of Islam.”

Under Article 2 the interpretation of women’s rights is left to
religious leaders, and it provides for implementation of Sharia law
which can turn the clock back on women’s rights in Iraq.

The social environment in Iraq has become acutely difficult for women
already. Many women now fear leaving their homes.

“I try to avoid leaving my home, and when I do, I always cover my face,”
Suthir Ayad told IPS at her house in Baghdad. “Several of my friends
have been threatened or beaten by these Shia militias who insist we stay
home and never show our faces.”

In southern Iraq, the situation seems even worse.

“My cousin in Basra was beaten savagely by some of the Mehdi Army (the
militia of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr) because she tried to attend
university,” said a woman who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Now she
never leaves her home unless fully covered, and then only to shop for food.”

(c)2006 Dahr Jamail.
All images, photos, photography and text are protected by United States and international copyright law. If you would like to reprint Dahr’s Dispatches on the web, you need to include this copyright notice and a prominent link to the http://DahrJamailIraq.com website. Website by photographer Jeff Pflueger’s Photography Media http://jeffpflueger.com . Any other use of images, photography, photos and text including, but not limited to, reproduction, use on another website, copying and printing requires the permission of Dahr Jamail. Of course, feel free to forward Dahr’s dispatches via email.

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1 Response

  1. Anonymous says:

    This type of information is in such short supply I really appreciated this insight into the lives of Iraqi women, post-invasion. Many thanks.

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