Iraq: Women live in terror as result of Bush Jnr’s cowardly invasion & subsequent sectarian chaos Print E-mail
 April 6 2008

THE OTHER HALF

Let's not forget

By KALPANA SHARMA

In Iraq, like with wars everywhere, women carry the biggest burden and pay the highest price.


Reams have been written in recent weeks about the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war. A war without justification. A war that has proved costly beyond measure. A war that is a living testimony that proves yet again that you cannot invent democracy and that you cannot impose peace through the use of force.

We know that more than 4,000 American soldiers have been killed, we know that George Bush is now one of the most unpopular presidents in the last months of his presidency principally because of the strong anti-war sentiment in his country.

But hidden behind all the analysis about this unjustified war and its impact on global politics, lies a hidden tragedy that is rarely reported, that of the condition of the women of Iraq. We know that war wreaks havoc on civil society. We know war hurts the most vulnerable sections of any society the most. We also know that women often carry the biggest burden and pay the highest price for war. Yet, often their stories remain untold, their suffering unknown, their tragic faces unseen.

Iraq's dirty secret
That is what is happening in Iraq where the impact on women is being dubbed its “dirty secret”. According to a recent survey conducted by Women for Women International in Iraq, two thirds of the 1,500 women surveyed said that violence on women had increased in Iraq. Zainab Salbe, the CEO of Women for Women, is quoted saying: “It has been five years since the American invasion of Iraq and while the mistakes made then continue to accumulate still, no one has stopped to listen to what this critical mass of the population, women, have to say about solving the problems.”

Even if Iraqi women wanted to have a say ­ and they certainly do ­ would anyone listen to them? From a country where women were prominent in professions like medicine, engineering, academia and in government, Iraqi women today are sequestered in their homes, forbidden by various sects from working in various professions. According to the Women for Women International report, “Stronger women, stronger nations: 2008 Iraq report”, 76.2 per cent of the women surveyed said that girls in their families were not allowed to attend school. Over 70 per cent said their families could not earn enough to meet their basic needs and 68 per cent said women were having difficulty finding jobs. Over 67 per cent said that their ability to walk on the street as they pleased had become worse since the US invasion. Less than a third of the women surveyed were optimistic about the future as opposed to almost two thirds in an earlier survey.

Not much has changed, it would seem, from two years ago when a month long survey of the lives of Iraqi women by The Observer exposed a horrifying picture. Peter Beaumont of that newspaper wrote in October 2006 about the killings of young women in places like Najaf and the fear that dominated the lives of the majority of women. He wrote that “in almost every major area of human rights, women are being seriously discriminated against, in some cases seeing their condition return to those of females in the Middle Ages.”

Aida Ussayaran, former deputy Human Rights Minister and a woman member on the Council of Representatives, told the media that this was the worst time for women in Iraq and that “in the name of religion and sectarian conflict they are being kidnapped and killed and raped. An no one is mentioning it.”

What is particularly worrying is the level of violence. During the war, women faced the brunt of it in many ways as their mobility was completely restricted and yet they had to find ways to feed their families. After the war ended, things ought to have improved. But with the relentless sectarian battles being fought in all parts of the country, women are now facing even more violence than they ever did before.

Terrifying picture
Beaumont’s report of 2006 painted a terrifying picture. I quote: “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 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.”

His description of Najaf is graphic and depressing: “Bodies of young women have appeared in its (Najaf’s) dusty by-lanes and avenues, places patrolled by packs of dogs where the boundaries bleed into the desert. It is a favourite place for dumping murder victims.”

To whom should the bill be presented for turning the clock back so completely for women in Iraq? President George Bush? Surely. But also the men of Iraq who are settling scores at the cost of one half of their country’s population, the women.

Those countries that supported Bush’s illegal war, or refrained from opposing it, must also share the blame. They justify what was done in the name of getting rid of one tyrant, Saddam Hussein. Instead, they have paved the way for the reign of thousands of tyrants whose victims are ordinary Iraqi women.

If anyone recommends war as a solution, let us remember the women of Iraq.
^^^^^^^^