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Old 11-12-2002, 01:21 PM   #1
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Iraqi Women Fear Regime Change (they may lose the few rights they do have)

I thought this was very interesting, I had no idea that Iraqi women had as many rights as they do!


Women fear regime change
Under Saddam's secular government, Iraqi women enjoy more rights than their Persian Gulf sisters



OLIVIA WARD
STAFF REPORTER (Toronto Star)

BAGHDAD `I'M AN engineer first," says Souad al-Azzawi. "That's what's most important to me. It's my career and my life."

Al-Azzawi, a vibrant woman in her early 50s, is dean of Baghdad University's prestigious Second Engineering College. And, like thousands of women in Iraq, she sees no barriers to a career in a field that, even in the West, is often considered male territory.

To emphasize the point, the chestnut-haired dean conducts an impromptu tour of nearby offices filled with stylish young women wearing model-like makeup and form-fitting clothes. They are graduate students, lecturers, researchers.

"People think that, because we're in the Persian Gulf geographically, we're like other women in those countries," al-Azzawi says with a satisfied smile.

"They seem amazed to learn we aren't walking around draped in veils, a few paces behind our husbands."

Anyone who has travelled in the highly conservative Arab countries or elsewhere in the Muslim world may well be surprised at their first view of Iraq's women.

While Saddam Hussein's regime may be one of the most politically repressive in the Middle East, the Iraqi leader came to power with the secular Ba'ath party, whose socialist philosophy has embraced equality of the sexes.

Some of Iraq's neighbours turned women's lives into prison sentences, but millions of Iraqi women were liberated from the bars that confined their mothers and grandmothers.

Those who have benefited the most urban career women are now the most worried about the damage that threatens their fragile progress if U.S. President George W. Bush orders an invasion of Iraq with no clear idea of who might succeed Saddam. They are concerned that a conservative regime, like those of other Persian Gulf states, could send them backward into an age from which they have barely escaped.

"In our house, when I grew up, everything depended on my father," says Karina Abdul, a computer manager in her 40s. "My mother was only there to serve him. For me, that would be unthinkable, no life at all."

Today, in Baghdad's infernal rush-hour traffic, women steer their cars determinedly, cutting their way across male drivers' paths, honking and hurling insults at men. Unlike women in some Gulf countries, they will not be arrested for merely attempting to drive, nor do they need a male relative chaperoning them from the passenger seat.

Indeed, Iraqi men often complain that women need them for very little these days, as years of crippling economic sanctions have forced homemakers to become breadwinners preoccupied with making ends meet rather than meeting their husbands' expectations.

"Nowadays, once a woman has a baby, a man's role is finished," complains one man, in his mid 30s. "She has a job and a child, and she makes it very clear that they're both more important than a husband."

A recent U.N. report confirms what is visible from the street.

"Iraq has scored the highest rank among Arab states in regard to the empowerment of women," the United Nations Development Program reported.

But statistics show that the position of women is far from secure. And two decades of war, as well as a dozen years of crippling economic sanctions, have made it difficult for the poorest and least educated women to advance.

Statistically, only 10 per cent of women are working in registered jobs, although many more toil at market stalls and in cottage industries, or work as farm labourers for subsistence pay.

Women hold 8 per cent of seats in Iraq's parliament and 35 per cent of university and technical college students are women. Thirty-eight per cent of doctors the top-ranking academic profession are also female.

But the spectrum of inequality is broad among women. Although they have the right to divorce, their property inheritance rights are fewer than those of men. Abortion is possible only if a woman's health is threatened, and then only with the consent of her husband.

Although not as widespread as in other Arab countries, "honour killings" still threaten Iraqi women, whose male relatives may take revenge on them for suspected sexual misconduct.

Prostitutes have been beheaded as a warning not to overstep the bounds of morality.

Women suffer disproportionately, too, from some effects of poverty. More than half of Iraq's female population is illiterate, compared with one-third of males, and more than 50 per cent of pregnant women suffer from anemia. In rural villages, where electricity and running water are a rarity, a glimpse of women's daily lives tells a story of dire poverty and vulnerability.

Reza Toma, 60, and Fartanah Toma, 40, are the two wives now widows of a sharecropping farmer who answered the government's call to settle on the dusty and remote soil of the Kuwait border before the 1991 Gulf War.

They lost most of their possessions during the war. And since Mohammed Toma died suddenly in September of a heart complaint, they face an appalling future. Both are illiterate. Fartanah is handicapped by deafness, which also affects one of her two young children.

"Our problem is that we're women," says Reza Toma with a bitter smile. "We were never taught to use farm equipment and now it's breaking down and we can't afford to fix it. We don't have enough tomato seeds to plant for our next crop and, now that Mohammed is gone, nobody will lend two lone women any money."

In Iraq, as elsewhere in the Muslim world, men are permitted more than one wife. But in recent years, polygamy has been mostly restricted to rural areas, where men who want to demonstrate their wealth, or who want children that cannot be provided by a first wife, take a second without fear of censure.

In Iraq's urban society, the practice is frowned on as a sign of backwardness, as is the wearing of all-enveloping robes. Black-clad women, whose voluminous abayas trail behind them through dusty city streets, are looked on with a mixture of pity and contempt. But in the countryside, abayas are a mandatory uniform.

Reza Toma is muffled in a heavy cotton robe from head to foot in 40C heat, her legs bound in strips of tattered black cloth to make up for stockings that wore out years ago.

"Of course, it's horribly hot," she says. "But no one would have any respect for a woman who walked around in flimsy clothes. It would be a scandal here."

Even among the conservative rural villages, however, veils are almost never seen and women work the fields alongside their menfolk.

It is these women, the poorest, who keep Iraq's high fertility rate at 5.7 children per woman. Their babies are more likely to be among the 108 per 1,000 who die before they live one year, according to U.N. statistics.

"The sanctions have been responsible for many deaths," says Dr. Saad Mehdi Hasani of the Mansour Pediatric Teaching Hospital.

"But so is ignorance. Many kids die because their mothers don't know how to protect them from deadly parasites, mosquitoes and sand flies. Some of these women can't read or write."

Although the U.N. sanctions imposed to punish Saddam for the invasion of Kuwait have caused massive damage to innocent women and children, they also have forced some progress for women.

Families have embraced birth control in a way that would have been unthinkable a generation ago, and women are able to look on childbearing as a choice as well as a duty.

"We Iraqis love big families, but they aren't possible for most people any more," says Dr. Saadoun Al-Tikriti, an American-educated physician who heads Baghdad's Society of Reproductive Health and Family Planning, a network of private clinics funded by aid donations and user fees.

Since the organization opened its doors in 1995, at the lowest point in Iraq's economic fortunes, it has expanded from 33 to 148 clinics throughout the country. Its client list rocketed from 272,000 to more than 1.2 million last year.

It is not like the liberal birth control clinics in the West, which hand out contraceptives to anyone who asks, Al-Tikriti points out hastily. Instead of counselling birth control, staffers speak of "family spacing."

"We are still a Muslim society," says the silver-haired doctor. "We only deal with married couples, and the husband should be in agreement."

But, he adds, that "isn't a problem nowadays. Husbands as well as wives want to cut down the number of children they have. Most of them are eager for our help."

The majority of couples opt for the female birth-control pill and only 3 per cent for condoms, Al-Tikriti says. Sterilization is not encouraged and, for Iraqi men, vasectomy is still beyond the pale.

Nevertheless, Iraqi women are increasingly taking control of the major decisions of their lives deciding whether to have children, or even to marry. Paradoxically, this is also a time when many young women are becoming outwardly more conservative.

In city offices, universities and on the streets, they are wearing headscarves to a degree that often shocks their secularly educated mothers. This is partly an effect of a government-sponsored religious campaign. But the stress of years of bombings and sanctions also has awakened genuine religious feeling, as well as a practical admission that glamour is an unaffordable luxury.

"You may think it's strange, but it makes me feel much freer to wear a scarf," says Areej Dawood, manager of a computer training centre in Baghdad run by the Arab Women's Federation.

"Before I covered my hair, I was always worrying about my appearance," she says. "Was the colour right, and was it nicely styled? I was a slave to vanity. Now, I want everyone to look at me and concentrate on who I am, not what I look like."

Dawood, an attractive woman of 41, is still that rarity in Iraq, a mature single female. But because of the economic crash, many, like her, were forced to postpone marriage. And a growing number of single, successful career women are appearing in Iraqi society as a new force to be reckoned with.

"It's true that I'm somewhat dependent on my parents, because I live at home," Dawood says, smiling. "But if I were married these days, I'd have to live with my in-laws, which could be much worse. This way, I'm my own person and I have the life I choose."

The choices, to a Western woman, may appear limited. Dating is taboo unless it leads quickly to marriage. Lunching or dining with a male friend in public is almost unthinkable and going to a restaurant alone at night, even with female friends, is shunned.

"Everything is done with the family," admits Dawood. "But if you get on well with your parents and relatives, you don't feel as though you're missing anything."

For the generation of Iraqis now in their 30s and over, parents played a large role in matchmaking. A woman seldom made an independent choice, because if the marriage failed, she could be socially isolated and impoverished.

Now, a growing number of young, well-educated women want that to change.

"I don't think it's right to get married too young," says Roan Hamid, a 17-year-old high school student who plans a career in science. "Nobody should tell you when to marry or who to marry, not even your parents. When your education is finished and you have a good job, then you can make up your mind."

But the future, these young women understand only too well, is not in their hands. With the threat of war shadowing them like a vulture's wing, they know their hopes may be crushed and their lives ended before they properly begin.

"We want to be `big women,'" says Noor Imad, 17, a tall, slim student with a wistful smile. "We want to be free. We want to be ourselves. We want everything. Do you think, for us, that is wrong?"
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Old 11-14-2002, 07:51 PM   #2
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Mrs. Edge,

I am not surprised this got little exposure in the US.

This does not serve the "official US line" on Iraq.

This is one of the reasons that US Administrations phony linkage to the Taliban was not believed by anyone, but lackeys.

That linkage story is one of the actions taken by the Bush administration that makes me skeptical of all information they put out.
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Old 11-14-2002, 10:00 PM   #3
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Very interesting article. Thanks for posting.

Of course, W wouldn't want this to get out. He couldn't get Laura on the Saturday morning radio broadcasst tellin how we are going to liberate Iraqi women.
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Old 11-14-2002, 10:22 PM   #4
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Yeah I know, that Saddam really cares about women swell guy...
Stoning accused adultresses...
Beheading husbands ( who oppose him) of these women that he so cherishes..

Give me a break.

ludicrous..

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Old 11-14-2002, 11:42 PM   #5
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So glad to hear that these "highly conservative Arab countries" have "embraced equality of the sexes."

talk about spin...

wow I'm dizzy
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Old 11-15-2002, 12:55 AM   #6
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The "exceptions" listed in that article are enough to make me vomit; "honor killings threaten Iraqi women, whose male relatives may take revenge on them for suspected sexual misconduct."

Why some of you continue to make excuses or simply overlook their heinous mistreatment of women (and Kurds, and gays, and other "lower castes") will never make sense to me.

Please consider that Saddam's regime has become much more socially repressive over the past few years, following the trends of some of his theocratic neighbors; maybe his future reign is what they should fear.

The Wanderer is right about the spin factor. Why don't we all go spin around baseball bats, you know, do some "dizzy-bats relays"?

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Old 11-16-2002, 05:53 PM   #7
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Ummm....I never said that Saddam really cares about women....I never said that he is wonderful....get your knickers out of a twist!

I just thought this offered an interesting perspective about the women.

All I said was that I always thought Iraqi women were also hidden in their burquas, and that I had no idea they were allowed to drive alone, be engineers and do some normal things, so I can see why a lot of them are nervous. OK???

Geez!!!
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Old 11-16-2002, 06:37 PM   #8
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Its not really a relevation to many of us that followed the Persian Gulf Crises closely back in 1990-1991. There were thousands of TV programs articles and books written back then that brought out these facts. Of course, the interference community is rather young and back in 1990-1991, may not have been old enough to follow the mass media saturation that all "things" Iraq recieved back then. So there is bound to be people who did not know the more secular society that Iraq has relative to its neighbors. If there is to be regime change, this will only enhance womens place in Iraqi society, but this time around, all women will be able to benefit rather than the few that have benefited from Saddam's rule relative to the rest of the population.
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Old 11-16-2002, 06:38 PM   #9
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You bring up a great topic, Mrs. Edge. Libya actually has a similar phenomenon, with Qadhafi being quite progressive on women's rights compared to the rest of the Islamic world. I do think this is mostly a result of Qadhafi's own Marxist leanings.

Nations like Saudi Arabia do have a worse track record on women's rights, but I think that the Western world does get one-sided coverage. As far as we know, all Islamic nations are the same.

And people...don't get your panties in a bunch. I'm not defending Saddam or Qadhafi; just recognizing an objective fact.

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Old 11-16-2002, 07:17 PM   #10
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yes, soon Saddam will be up for a Nobel Peace Prize for his liberation of the Iraqi women
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Old 11-17-2002, 01:08 PM   #11
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Speaking of leaders who care oh so much about the plight of women around the world, would anyone care to comment on THIS? Articles like this make me so depressed and angry.

Bush continues his right-wing war on women

MICHELE LANDSBERG


The conservative cowboys of the media are throwing their hats in the air and tap-dancing on the tables to celebrate George Bush's overwhelming dominance of American (and world) power.

They're cheering because now the rich will get even richer and George Bush will be absolutely unstoppable in his war on Iraq, his war on terrorism, his remorseless war on the U.S. poor, and his war on women around the globe.

They certainly must know, if they're even half awake, that Bush's religious crusade has already brought disease, unimaginable physical suffering and death to countless young women and babies. When he celebrated his very first day in office by reinstating the "global gag rule" arbitrarily refusing U.S. aid to any women's health agency in the world that so much as mentioned the word "abortion" he set the tone. Next he cancelled the $34 million U.S. contribution to the United Nations Population Fund, and the oppressive impact on women (more about that in a minute) would have gladdened the hearts of the Taliban.

Then, at a meeting in Bangkok in late October, Bush went even further. Delegates from Asia and the Pacific had gathered to prepare for a United Nations population conference in December. The U.S. sent a newly appointed, inexperienced but confidently fanatic spokesperson, together with John Klink, a hardliner who formerly represented the Vatican, to threaten the rest of the world. The U.S., they told the stunned delegates, is all set to withdraw its support from an historic 1994 agreement on reproductive health.

George Bush, in other words, is gearing up to police the wombs of the world's women.

What a sick joke: This ignorant man (now hailed as "shrewd" because he won the election on the backs of the World Trade Centre victims and a prostrate Democratic opposition) has allied himself morally with the very nations that he loves to denounce as "the axis of evil." Aside from the Vatican, unflaggingly determined to impose its religion on the bodies of all women everywhere, Bush has no greater ally in this campaign than the fundamentalist Islamic nations.

But what exactly has he done? Let me backtrack. Here are just a few of the programs slashed or suspended when Bush yanked that $34 million from the U.N. Population Fund last summer:

Family planning programs in eight rural districts of Kenya (programs that taught about HIV/AIDS prevention, contraception and safe delivery).

An initiative to cut maternal deaths in Mozambique and to stop the spread of AIDS among youth.

Training in emergency obstetrics for doctors in Bangladesh, where one woman dies every hour from complications in pregnancy and childbirth.

The first-ever population study in East Timor, to help plan an AIDS prevention program among youth, refugees, fishermen and sex workers.

A two-year plan in the Indian state of Maharashtra (population 99 million) to reduce neonatal mortality. About 500 babies will die needlessly this year alone, and 200 to 300 more women will die in childbirth.

A plan to train 4,000 Vietnamese health care workers and supply 500 clinics in remote mountain areas with essential medical equipment and drugs.

Programs to supply contraceptives in Thailand, Nepal, Algeria, Kazakhstan, Laos.

And now, ostensibly because they insist that the U.N.'s approach to reproductive health means "abortion and nothing but abortion" (a willful misunderstanding), the Americans are ready to pull back from the Cairo Program of Action. At a U.N. population conference in that city in 1994, the world turned decisively toward support for women's human rights. Instead of forced campaigns to limit fertility, the U.N. member states would offer women the education and medical support to make their own informed decisions about disease prevention, pregnancy and birth.

Little known outside U.N. circles, the Cairo agreement was nevertheless an important stride forward. The world's most disadvantaged women would now be entitled to the same dignity and freedom as the most privileged.

But with Bush's threat to reject the Cairo principles, all that is reversed. Funds for key world health programs may be jeopardized. The rights of women worldwide will be brushed aside so that Bush can reward his religious-right supporters.

I once believed that women's progress, so hard-won, could never be reversed. George Bush is going to show us, however, just how we can be pushed back. Over the next two and maybe six years, he will appoint countless extremist judges and bureaucrats to whittle away the laws and institutions that protect U.S. women's equality rights. America, once a beacon of feminist achievement, will become a dread example of what can happen when religion and politics entwine to waltz us back to the Dark Ages.
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Old 11-17-2002, 01:18 PM   #12
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Normal

Now that is an unbiased article Mrs Edge.
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Old 11-17-2002, 01:24 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally posted by diamond
Now that is an unbiased article Mrs Edge.
Since we all know that all unbiased articles clearly love George W. Bush.

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Old 11-17-2002, 03:02 PM   #14
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Sure the article has a bias. That does not mean that some points in the article are not factual.

Did the administration win the election on the backs of 3000 dead? Did they campaign on domestic issues; the economy, health care, social security, cleaning up corporate scandals, the deficit? I am not saying they wanted 9-11 to happen. I do believe they capitalized on it. It should not be a partisan issue to be exploited.

I do not believe others should have to live by my religious or spiritual beliefs. Unfortunately this administration, like the regimes they oppose do want to impose their beliefs on others.
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Old 11-17-2002, 04:56 PM   #15
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GW is a friend of mine.
I do not feel imposed upon by Mr W.

I think what drove the ppl to the polls was safety and security that this administration could offer..

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