The worst time ever in Iraqi women's lives
'Of course rape is going on,' says Aida Ussayaran, former deputy Human Rights Minister and now one of the women on the Council of Representatives. 'We blame the militias. But when we talk about the militias, many are members of the police. Any family now that has a good-looking young woman in it does not want to send her out to school or university, and does not send her out without a veil. This is the worst time ever in Iraqi women's lives. In the name of religion and sectarian conflict they are being kidnapped and killed and raped. And no one is mentioning it.'
The status and freedom of women in Iraq before the invasion was considerably better, in fact relatively high for an Arab country, even though the 1991 Gulf War brought significant reverses for women and girls.
The most significant political factor was Saddam Hussein's decision to embrace Islamic and tribal traditions as a political tool in order to consolidate power.
Still, the insecurity fostered by Bush's failed policies for occupation, and the growing insurgency, meant that already in the first months after the invasion women were living in a 'climate of fear', as Human Rights Watch reported in July 2003.
...the failure of Iraqi and U.S.-led occupation authorities to provide public security in Iraq's capital lies at the root of a widespread fear of rape and abduction among women and their families.
"Women and girls today in Baghdad are scared, and many are not going to schools or jobs or looking for work," said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "If Iraqi women are to participate in postwar society, their physical security needs to be an urgent priority."...
U.S. military police were not filling the gap when Iraqi police were unwilling or unable to conduct serious investigations of sexual violence and abduction.
But of course George Bush's administration gave little attention to the interests of any Iraqis, and the situation for women deteriorated badly thereafter. By the summer of 2005, Code Pink was reporting that Iraqi women were 'Under Siege'. In addition to facing random violence on the lawless streets of Iraq as well as abuse by American troops, Code Pink reported that women had restricted access to jobs and education, and that the gains in conservative Islamist power endangered women's essential liberties. The new constitution was a significant reversal for women's rights (despite this absurdly optimistic appraisal of the future of Sharia law from Foreign Affairs).
This contemporary report from Lesley Abdela paints a grim picture of oppression of women as of July 2005, as the civil war was just beginning.
Just as Iraqi women were anticipating a new era of democracy and freedom, a wave of intimidation by extremist groups has arisen to crush their hopes. Violent oppression of women is spreading across Iraq, a weapon of mass mental and physical destruction. And yet there is silence from world leaders, religious leaders, politicians and the media.
Insurgents and religious extremists use rape, acid and assassination to force Iraqi women to wear the veil - the symbol of submission, first signal of further repression to come. Many Iraqi women have never worn the scarf. Now, dead bodies of girls and women are found in rivers and on waste ground with a veil tied around the head, as a message....
Political Islamists target universities in particular....
Attacks have now expanded from certain geographic locations to the whole country.
Again, the Bush administration failed to act to stem the oppression of Iraqi women. From March of 2006, this report from Houzan Mahmoud:
And it gets worse. Representatives of the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq recently discovered a jail in al-Kazemiah district of Baghdad holding over 200 women (and some children) in appalling conditions. They were held by the Shia-dominated authorities, some for supposed involvement with the insurgency, some for other reasons. Many had been tortured or raped....women are now caught between a pincer movement of a heavy-handed (and despised) occupation that cares little for women's rights in Iraq, and an increasingly reactionary Islamic armed insurrection that aims to imprison women.
And today, The Observer reports that the unraveling of the country has left Iraqi women to the wolves. It is a 'human rights catastrophe for Iraqi women'.
Iraqis do not like to talk about it much, but there is an understanding of what is going on these days. If a young woman is abducted and murdered without a ransom demand, she has been kidnapped to be raped. Even those raped and released are not necessarily safe: the response of some families to finding that a woman has been raped has been to kill her.
Iraq's women are living with a fear that is increasing in line with the numbers dying violently every month. They die for being a member of the wrong sect and for helping their fellow women. They die for doing jobs that the militants have decreed that they cannot do: for working in hospitals and ministries and universities. They are murdered, too, because they are the softest targets for Iraq's criminal gangs....
After a month-long investigation, The Observer has established that in almost every major area of human rights, women are being seriously discriminated against, in some cases seeing their conditions return to those of females in the Middle Ages....
It is a violence that would not be possible without a wider, permissive brutalising of women's lives: one that permeates the 'new Iraq' in its entirety.
I wonder how much of this living hell Condoleezza Rice observed during her dash in and out of the Green Zone this week?
Crossposted from Unbossed