Steps Backward: Women’s Rights in Iraq - 03.31.2008

Baghdad, Iraq - Women in Iraq are enduring great hardships. Since the fall of Saddam, despite attempts to improve women’s rights, many feel their rights are slipping. Under Saddam women were considered to be equal under the law. With the collapse of the government after the invasion in 2003, militias have gained greater and greater ground.

The militias have not only been involved in ongoing criminal activity, many have ties to Islamist groups, such as the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq, or Al-Qa’eda in Iraq. These groups in particular have targeted women, preventing them from working, and enforcing strict dress codes. This week Hayder Kamal interviews an activist for women’s rights who discusses her work improving women’s knowledge of their rights. During 2004 and 2005 she worked to encourage women to vote and understand the constitution and the importance of voting and being involved in political life.

She, like many members of civil society, reports being targeted repeatedly and nearly killed for her work. Today she is working secretly and her organization continues, but less publicly than before. This has become a necessity with the continuing presence of dire threats to women. The spread of democracy in Iraq has so far assisted the rise of Islamist groups, and has greatly hindered the progression of women’s rights.

For women to live with security, access to the same rights as men, and equal protection under the law, is going to take more than a new constitution, forced imposition of democracy, and a quota system in the parliament. As the ongoing insecurity and instability in Iraq enters its sixth year, the situation of women sees few signs of improving.

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