Sunday, April 11, 2010

Women's Rights In Danger In Iraq: Thanks to the "Good Ol' U.S.A.": When Will Western Media Tell the Truth?!

What follows are two related articles on the condition of women's deteriorated rights in Iraq since the U.S. invasion. That the pro-U.S. media pretends women are better off now: this is a blatant lie. See below for more. The original locations for these posts are here and here.

Iraq: Women's rights in danger
Iraqi women demonstrators protest lack of security and basic services [EPA]

Prior to the US-led invasion of Iraq, women working in the public and government sectors were entitled to receive a year's maternity leave under family laws enforced by the former Saddam Hussein leadership.

In the seven years since the US-led invasion which ousted Saddam, however, maternity leave has been cut to six months.

Since the Personal Status Law was enacted on July 14, 1958, when Iraqis overthrew the British-installed monarchy, Iraqi women have enjoyed many of the rights that Western women do.

But the statutes governing the status of women since 1958 have been replaced with Article 2 of the new Iraqi Constitution, which states that "Islam is the official religion of the state and is a basic source of legislation."
Sub-head A says "No law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed rules of Islam." Under this Article the interpretation of women's rights is left to religious leaders.

Islamic governance
Yanar Mohammed, a women's rights campaigner in Iraq, believes that the US has "let go of women's rights" in the war-ravaged country.

"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," she says.

"The financial and political support from Iran is why the Iraqis in the south accept this, not because the Iraqi people want Islamic law."

According to the post-2003 Iraqi constitution, parliament should be comprised of no less than 25 per cent female candidates. As a result, the amended electoral law of December 2009 stipulated that parliament should comprise 82 female representatives.

Each party and coalition list must ensure that 25 per cent of its nominated candidates are women. However, the women's quota has not been filled since 2005 and as a result, the elections commission said "special measures" must be implemented to ensure the quota is met.

Women's rights groups in Iraq and abroad have complained that the Iraqi parliament has not provided information on what the measures involve or how it would go about implementing them.

According to Maha Sabria, a professor of political science at Al-Nahrain University in Baghdad, women members of parliament "stand up to defend their party in the parliament, not for women's rights".

Lack of infrastructure
Sabria also makes a direct link between the deteriorated status of women in the country to the lack of infrastructure, political and economic stability, and security. She believes that women bear a "double burden" as they have lost many of their freedoms due to, and under, the US occupation.

"The violation of women's rights [is] part of the violation of the rights of all Iraqis," she says.

"More men are now under the weight of detention, so now women bear the entire burden of the family and are obliged to provide full support to the families and children. At the same time, women do not have freedom of movement because of the deteriorated security conditions and because of abductions of women and children by criminal gangs."

Women, she says, are also now under pressure to marry at a younger age in the hope that a husband (including his family and tribal affiliations) will bring added security.

Sabria says that the abduction of women "did not exist prior to the occupation. We find that women lost their right to learn and their right to a free and normal life, so Iraqi women are struggling with oppression and denial of all their rights, more than ever before."

"Tribal, backward laws"
The Constitution mandates that 25 per cent of seats in Parliament be allocated to women 
Since 2003, many Iraqis sought refuge in the tried and tested security offered by tribal affiliations and allegiances.

As contemporary Iraqi society fell apart in the face of lawlessness, abductions, revenge killings and overall lack of security, the tribal system offered both refuge and order.

Some Iraqis believe that the decline in the modern and secular standard of living since 2003 propelled the social dynamic back by several decades.

"The real ruler in Iraq now is the rule of old traditions and tribal, backward laws," Sabria says.

"The biggest problem is that more women in Iraq are unaware of their rights because of the backwardness and ignorance prevailing in Iraqi society today."

Fleeing Iraq
Compounding the severity of the situation is the fact that many women also fled their homes because their husbands were arbitrarily arrested by occupation forces or government security personnel. A household without a male figure became far more vulnerable since 2003. Women sought refuge with relatives and failing to do so fled to Syria or Jordan.

According to United Nations estimates, more than four million Iraqis have been displaced in the past seven years, including approximately 2.8 million registered as internally displaced persons.

Many live as refugees mainly in neighbouring countries, according to a report by Elizabeth Ferris, co-director of the Brookings Institution-University of Bern Project on Internal Displacement.

The report, titled, Going Home? Prospects and Pitfalls For Large-Scale Return Of Iraqis, says most displaced Iraqi women are reluctant to return home because of continuing uncertainties.

Obstacles to repatriation
For its part, the Washington-based Refugees International (RI) says in another report - Iraqi Refugees: Women's Rights and Security Critical to Return - that "Iraqi women will resist returning home, even if conditions improve in Iraq, if there is no focus on securing their rights as women and assuring their personal security and their families' well-being".

The RI report covered internally displaced women in Iraq's semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region and female refugees in Syria. "Not one woman interviewed by RI indicated her intention to return," the report says.

"This tent is more comfortable than a palace in Baghdad; my family is safe here," a displaced woman in northern Iraq told RI.

The situation continues to be challenging for women within Iraq. Yanar Mohammed believes the constitution neither protects women nor ensures their basic rights. She blames the US for abdicating its responsibility to help develop a pluralistic democracy in Iraq.

"I am an employee, and everyday go to my work place, and the biggest challenge for me and all the suffering Iraqis is the roads are closed and you feel you are a person without rights, without respect," a 35-year-old government employee, who asked to be referred to as Iman, said.

"To what extent has this improved my security," she asked. "We have better salaries now, but how can women live with no security? How can we enjoy our rights if there is no safe place to go, for rest and recreation and living?"

Dahr Jamail is an independent American journalist who reported from Iraq for eight months in 2003-2004. He is the author of Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq.

Published under an agreement with IPS.

The views expressed in this article are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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This is a cross-post from here.

Women in Iraq

Abstract: The American government has claimed that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq has given women freedoms that they did not have prior to the beginning of the 2003 war. Independent journalists in Iraq have stated that not only is this a lie, it is exactly opposite of the truth. Many independent sources have confirmed that the US led invasion has cause great suffering and oppression to the Iraqi women. Further, the US backed government in Iraq has enacted un-Islamic law that mirrors American perception of Islamic law, but has no basis in true Islamic jurisprudence.

At the Republican National Convention in 2004, President George W. Bush stated that because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, "young women across the Middle East will hear the message that their day of equality and justice is coming." The implication of this statement is that women in the Iraq were oppressed prior to the U.S.-led invasions. President Bush and his staff made such insinuations frequently. In reality, women in Iraq had more rights before the U.S.-led invasion than anywhere else in the Middle East (Suri, Saddam Better for Women).

As a result of this constant misrepresentation of the facts on the ground, as well as the gross failure of much of the Western media to report the facts as they are, many Americans have a distorted view of the life of women in Iraq prior to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Numerous independent reports have shown that most women highly preferred Saddam Hussein’s “barbaric” regime to current conditions, and that they are substantially more oppressed now than ever before in Iraqi history. Even in Afghanistan, women say that their lives are getting progressively worse since the U.S. invasion (Motevalli, First Afghan Woman Mayor Says Women's Rights Worsened).

One of the areas of life where women’s rights have devolved is in the area of education. Most Americans will agree that an educated woman is an empowered woman. Iraq’s constitution, created by the Baath party, guaranteed women and men equal access to education. Six years after Saddam Hussein took power, there was a 75% literacy rate among women. U.S. sanctions in the 1990s forced the Iraqi government to reduce their education budget. By the year 2000, only 25% of Iraqi women were literate (Al-Azzawi, Deterioration of Iraqi Women's Rights and Living Conditions Under Occupation). Today, women are almost entirely unable to go to school. Nora Hamaid, 30, told reporters, “I completed my studies before the [American] invaders arrived because there was good security and I could freely go to university.” Now she is afraid to send her children to school, because the abduction and murder of women and children is so common: “I mean, every day, from when they depart to when they return from school, for fear of abductions.” (Jamail, Women Miss Sadam)

Women also had the ability to pursue careers of their own choosing. They had many rights and benefits provided them by law. Women holding government jobs received one year paid maternity leave. That time has been cut in half (Jamail, Women Miss Saddam). A government employee who asked to be called “Iman” (Faith) told reporters: “I am an employee, and everyday go to my work place, and the biggest challenge for me and all the suffering Iraqis is [that] the roads are closed and you feel you are a person without rights, without respect. To what extent has this improved my security? We have better salaries now, but how can women live with no security? How can we enjoy our rights if there is no safe place to go, for rest and recreation and living?”

But for her complaints, Iman is one of the lucky ones. In “Brutalized For Western Profit” (Nousratpour), the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq says: “Women have all but disappeared from public life for fear of being raped, killed, kidnapped or trafficked to foreign countries." Before the U.S. led invasion, women were able to roam the streets fearlessly. Today, only 10% of Iraqi women have regular salaried jobs. Ironically, inability to leave the house for fear of rape has driven tens of thousands of women into such dire poverty that they are forced into prostitution (Nousratpour, Brutalized for Western Profit).

Before the invasion, women were able to leave the house dressed however they willed. (RWOR, What the U.S. Occupation Has Meant for Iraqi Women). They had the freedom to choose their own ways of dress, just like western women. If they chose to wear hijab (veil), they did; if they did not wish to do so, no one compelled them to do so. Today, tailors have been ordered to only make certain types of clothing (Ibid.). Women are afraid to leave their houses dressed in ways that the local government condemns.

Not only has the life of women outside the house become unbearable, the life of women within their own houses have been increasingly threatened since the invasion. In Fallujah alone, more than seventy women have been killed just for opening the doors of their homes when men knocked. (Ibid.) Women are trapped: if they person knocking is a soldier and they do not answer, the door will be broken down and they will be shot; but if they do open the door, the person may be a thug who will shoot them for this “crime.” This never happened before the invasion.

The married life of women has also deteriorated. Without the ability to hold down jobs, poverty-stricken women are forced to marry in the hopes that a husband can provide for them. The marriage age of women is getting lower because younger and younger girls need husbands to provide for them (Jamail, Women Miss Saddam). Saddam Hussein’s government made polygamy practically impossible, but the current government is enabling it. Even in relatively progressive Kurdistan, polygamy is being touted by the new government (Nousratpour, Brutalized for Western Profit).

Under Saddam Hussein, women had the right to divorce their husbands, had equal consideration in the custody of children, and even had the ability to receive child support (al Azzawi, Deterioration of Women’s Rights). The current government only allows men to divorce women, and automatically gives children of divorced women to the husband. Women were protected against domestic violence in marriage (Ramdas, U.S. Invasion Makes Life Worse for Women of Iraq). Today this right is also gone, and gruesome and despicable “honor killings” are on the rise.

Perhaps the next issue that comes to the reader’s mind is, “Perhaps Islamic law, the official basis for the new law, is the problem.” Then we must ask, “Does Islam support the way that women are being treated in Iraq today?” The answer is a resounding “No.” Islam has always been, and remains, ahead of its time in the equal and fair treatment of women.

To understand my next points, we must begin with a basic understanding of basic Islamic law. Islamic scholars are divided into groups called “madhabs”. Each madhab has a distinct way of deriving law. The two basic sources of Islamic law are the Qur’an and the hadith (anecdotal stories from the life and teachings of Muhammad). Shi’a also add logic. Shi’ite courts traditionally seek logical cases endings more than Sunni courts. Sunni courts, on the other hand, traditionally rely more on legal precedent and the consensus of Islamic scholars, especially the early scholars.

In Islamic law, women and men are both ordered to seek knowledge and education. Sahih Bukhari (the most respected collection of hadith) says: "Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every Muslim". Muslim women have, from the earliest times, had equal education to men. Aisha bint Abu Bakr, who married Muhammad after the death of his first wife Khadija, became one of the most important “authors” (narrators) and teachers of Islamic law. Men came from afar and sat at her feet to learn. Before her marriage, she had overseen her father’s travels, packing his provision for many weeks’ travel into the harsh Arabian desert.

Women have had jobs in Islamic history. Islamic law guarantees women and men equal wages, a right American women do not enjoy to this day. Also, a Muslim woman is not required to share her income with her husband. He is required to provide for her provision, but if she does not wish to give him money from her earnings, there is no fault in her. During the Middle Ages, most of the wealth owned by Muslims was owned by women. Women inherited money from their fathers and husbands, or earned it, and used this money to affect many aspects of daily life, including the building of schools and mosques.

Islam does not compel women to veil themselves against their will. There is no set penalty for women who do not wear hijab under Islamic law. The only years a woman is strongly recommended to wear hijab are the years she menstruates. Before puberty and after menopause, it is purely optional. Also, a woman does not only need to wear hijab when she is at home, or with those who are close relatives of hers.

It is also useful at this juncture to mention that Islam is not the only major religion that orders women to wear the veil. Both Judaism and Christianity mandate the complete covering of women’s hair. In the Mishne Torah, Sefer Qedusha, in Hilkhoth Isurei Bi'ah 21:17 one can read the Rambam’s strict order that all women of marriage age must cover their hair, whether they are married or unmarried. In the Christian scriptures, Paul says, “For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.” (1 Cor. 11:6).

The killing of women within their own homes, simply for the crime of opening the door, is deplorable and without any precedent in Islamic law. Even in wartime, the killing of women and children is strictly forbidden unless the woman is actively engaged in combat. Non-combatant women are never to be killed.

Islamic law, though it allows polygamy, makes actually keeping multiple wives practically impossible. The man must be financial capable of fully supporting each wife and all of her children, something very few men can do today. Also, receiving the permission of the first wife to add a second wife to the family is strongly recommended.

Women in Islamic law have the right to divorce their husband in court. As the following well-known and accepted hadith shows, the mother is considered three times as important as the father, giving her preference in case of divorce except in cases when she abandons the children:

Bahz bin Hakim, on his father’s authority, said that his grandfather told him that he had asked Allah’s Messenger to whom he should show kindness and that the Prophet had replied: “Your mother.” He asked who came next and he replied: “Your mother.” He asked who came next and he replied for the third time: “Your mother.” He again asked who came next and he replied: “Your father, then your relatives in order of relationship” (Abu Dawud, 5120).

Islam, before any other culture, directly outlawed the killing of newborn daughters—still a common practice in China and parts of Hindu India. Kindness to daughters is one of the ways to be assured of Paradise in the hereafter according to Islam. There is no greater sin in Islam than the murder of one’s own daughter.

Women have always held a high place of honor in Islamic society. The first person to accept Muhammad as a prophet was a woman, as was the first Muslim casualty of war. Women served positions in government; Ash-Shefaa bint Abd’Allah al-Adawiyyah served as minister of finance during the first Caliphate. Umm Hani, the cousin of Muhammad, gave pardons to prisoners of war, and her pardons were accepted by Muhammad as valid and those she declared free were freed. Women received the right to vote and to pledge their allegiance to a leader during the time of Muhammad himself, and women were consulted in the nominations of the Caliphs, whereas American women did not receive the right to vote until 1917.

A woman can be a judge in an Islamic court, a position they did not hold in American courts until the 1870. Women have been heads of state in four of the five most populated Muslim-majority countries, as well as many other Muslim-majority countries, but have not yet reached this level in the United States.
By now, it should be clear to the honest reader that Islam does not and has not ever oppressed women. Rather, the oppression of women occurring today in Iraq is the direct result of the American occupation and puppet government. Iraqi women were not oppressed under Saddam Hussein as much as they are today under American rule.

Works Cited
Al-Azzawi, Souad N. "Deterioration of Iraqi Women's Rights and Living Conditions Under Occupation." Deterioration of Iraqi Women's Rights and Living Conditions Under Occupation. Web. 8 Apr. 2010. .
Jamail, Dahr, and Abdu Rahman. "Iraq: Women's Rights in Danger." Al Jazeera English. 20 Mar. 2010. Web. 8 Apr. 2010. .
Jamail, Dahr. "Women Miss Sadam." Dahr Jamail's Mideast Dispatches. 12 Mar. 2010. Web. 8 Apr. 2010. .
Motevalli, Golnar. "First Afghan Woman Mayor Says Women's Rights Worsened." Reuters. 15 Jan. 2009. Web. 8 Apr. 2010. .
Ramdas, Kavita. "U.S. Invasion Makes Life Worse for Women of Iraq." SeattlePI. 2 Jan. 2007. Web. 8 Apr. 2010. .
Suri, Sanjay. "IRAQ: Saddam Better for Women." Inter Press Service. 29 Mar. 2006. Web. 8 Apr. 2010. .
"What the U.S. Occupation Has Meant for Iraqi Women." Revolution 38 (12 Mar. 2006). Web. 8 Apr. 2010. .
Nousratpour, Louise. "Brutalized for Western Profit." Equality In Iraq. Organisation for Women's Freedom in Iraq, 10 Feb. 2010. Web. 10 Apr. 2010. .

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