Women's rights in Iraq - Where is the Support?
Posted by Anita Sharma
The editorial “Off Course in Iraq," published in the New York Times on July 20 was particularly disheartening. After being disillusioned about the invasion of Iraq and U.S. failures at efforts to reconstruct and bring peace to the country, I thought that at least my efforts working with Iraqi women in the new political system may prove to be a one bright spot in the otherwise dark and dangerous days of the post-Saddam era.
It seems now that even the hollow justification for the intervention in Iraq—to free people from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, and in particular the women of Iraq—is just an excuse reminiscent of invading because of the Saddam’s nuclear arsenal. In question is the insertion of sharia law into the new constitution. Although there are supposed to be separate provisions depending on your religion, women would be stripped of their right to choose their own husbands, inherit property on the same basis as men and seek court protection if their husbands tire of them and decide to declare them divorced.
The Iraqi women that I’ve worked with during the past two years say that one of their biggest fears may now become a reality. Since Saddam fell a courageous group of women have braved assassination attempts, kidnappings, and other hardships to work to ensure women’s participation and representation in Iraq.
And they were successful—the interim constitution set aside 25 percent of its seats for them and women were named to key ministry positions and took up posts throughout government agencies. Indeed in his February 1, 2004 op-ed in the Washington Post, then Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz announced the U.S.commitment to Iraqi women with a special allocation of $27 million for women's programs.
He goes further in his op-ed by saying, "In the end, it will be up to Iraqis to fashion a democracy that suits their circumstances. One of the critical tests of an Iraqi democracy will be whether it empowers women to enjoy the benefits of freedom and prosperity without sacrificing their religious faith. This is an issue that concerns everyone, not only women. A government that does not respect the rights of half its citizens cannot be trusted to safeguard the rights of any.”
Is this just lip-service? Or will be shake our heads and say it is a pity—Iraq has been “liberated,” but its women enslaved.