Haifa Zangara is a London-based Iraqi
A group of Iraqi women recently met the U.S. ambassador in an effort
push the framers of Iraq's constitution not to limit women's rights.
Western feminist groups and some Iraqi women activists fear Islamic
which if enshrined as a main source of legislation will be used to
restrict their rights, specifically in matters relating to marriage,
divorce and inheritance. The U.S. shares this concern; Iraqi women
generally do not. Why?
Most Iraqi women recognize, and try to sensitively cope with, the
predicament of dealing with occupation and the rise of reactionary
practices affecting their rights and way of life. This applies across
political and social class spectrum, for the secular left as much as
moderate Islamists and nationalists. They also feel that writing the
constitution is not their priority for the time being. Iraqi women
believe that it is important for the people concerned to be able to
clearly, to think of the future when writing such a crucial document.
order to do this, they must be liberated from immediate fears and be
to enjoy basic human rights, such as walking safely in the streets of
Iraqi women do not enjoy these privileges.
Despite all the rhetoric about "building a new democracy," Iraqis are
buckled under the burdens of abuse and plunder committed by members of
the U.S.-led occupation force and its local Iraqi sub-contractors.
life for most Iraqis is still a struggle for survival, with tragedies
atrocities engulfing them.
Human rights under occupation have proven to be a mirage similar to
weapons of mass destruction. Torture and ill-treatment of members of
political and armed groups, even the torture of children held in adult
facilities, is widespread. Depleted uranium and other banned weapons
been used against various Iraqi cities by American and British troops,
weapons including the MK-77 incendiary bomb, a modern form of napalm.
Iraqi women were long the most liberated in the Middle East.
has confined them to their homes. A typical Iraqi woman's day begins
the struggle to get the basics: electricity, petrol or a cylinder of
fresh water, food and medication. It ends with a sigh of relief for
surviving death threats and violent attacks. For a majority of Iraqi
women, simply venturing into the streets harbors the possibility of
attack or kidnapping for profit or revenge. Young girls are sold to
neighboring countries for prostitution.
In the land of oil, 16 million Iraqis rely on monthly food rations for
survival. They have not received any since May. Privatization
all free public services. Acute malnutrition has doubled among
Unemployment at 70 percent is exacerbating poverty, prostitution,
backstreet abortions and honor killings. Corruption and nepotism are
rampant in the interim government. Gender is no obstacle. Layla
Abdul-Latif, minister of transport under Iyad Allawi's regime, is
investigation for corruption. Her male colleague Ayham Al-Sammarai,
former minister of electricity, managed to flee the country.
Women's political participation in the interim government, national
assembly and even the committee appointed to write the constitution
follows a quota system imposed by Paul Bremer, the former de facto
of Iraq imposed by the U.S.. This is the man who engineered a process
reproducing the U.S.-appointed Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA),
prolong the occupation and incite sectarian and ethnic conflicts.
Iraqi women's historical struggle against colonial occupation for
national unity, social justice and legal equality has been reduced to
sheer bickering among a handful of "women leaders" over nominal
posts. The quota system has widened the gap between women members of
interim governments and the majority of Iraqi women.
Powerless, holed up in guarded areas or the US-fortified Green Zone,
venturing out only in daylight with armed escorts and without any
credibility among Iraqi women, the failure of these "leaders" is
catastrophic. Like their male colleagues, they have adopted a
approach to human rights, principally U.S.-oriented. The suffering of
their sisters in cities showered with napalm, phosphorus and cluster
bombs by U.S. jet fighters, the death of about 100,000 Iraqis -- half
them women and children -- is met with rhetoric about training women
leadership and democracy.
Documents released March 7, 2005 by the American Civil Liberties Union
show 13 cases of rape and abuse of female detainees. The documents
revealed that no action was taken against any soldier or civilian
official as a result.
The documents also provide further evidence that U.S. troops have
destroyed evidence of abuse and torture in order to avoid a repetition
last year's Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. The silence of women
of the National Assembly, interim government and all USAID-financed
NGOs is deafening. "Women's rights" in Iraq has become an absurd
discourse chewing on meaningless words.
No wonder that U.S.-financed women NGOs, who publicly preach women's
rights and democracy, are suspected of being vehicles for foreign
manipulation and are despised and boycotted, however much they manage
recruit liberal or left personalities.
Iraqi women know that the enemy is not Islam. There is a strong
to anyone trying to equate women's issues to the racist "war on
set up against the world of Islam. Women also know that traditional
society, exemplified by the neighborhood and extended family, however
restrictive at times, is not the enemy. In fact, it has been the
and protector of women and children in both physical safety and
despite lowest-common-denominator demands on dress and personal
The enemy is the collapse of the state and civil society. And the
for that is the foreign military invasion and occupation.
Haifa Zangara is a London-based Iraqi novelist.