A Nation of Widows: Why Any Honest Discussion About Iraq Must Include the Plight of Women
By Rose Aguilar, AlterNet
Posted on March 6, 2009, Printed on March 11, 2009
In the run-up to the March 20, 2003 invasion of Iraq, then President George W. Bush, Laura Bush, and Condoleeza Rice took to the airwaves to assure the world that their main goal was “liberation,” especially for women. Almost six years after the first bombs dropped, the women of Iraq have all but been forgotten.
Last month, Nawal al-Samarrai, Iraq’s State Minister for Women’s Affairs, quit her job to protest a lack of resources and government support. She faced the daunting task of helping women with a budget that had been slashed from $7,500 to $1,500 per month.
“I think it is wrong to stay as a minister without doing anything for my people, especially in this time and in this situation of Iraqi women -- we have an army of widows, violated women, detainees, illiteracy and unemployment -- many, many problems. I had to resign," she said in an interview with National Public Radio.
Al-Samarrai says there are more than three million widows in Iraq, most of them with children and without a social safety net or steady source of income. Because so many men have been killed by consecutive wars, some estimates put the rate of women to men at 65/35.
As the six-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq approaches, the voices of the women who are dealing with growing unemployment, violence, and seclusion are still missing from the conversation about the continued occupation and President Obama’s decision to keep 50,000 troops in their country.
A new book attempts to give those women a voice and examine why military intervention and occupation have failed to “liberate” them. In What Kind of Liberation? Women and the Occupation of Iraq, authors Nadje Al-Ali, Reader in Gender Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and Nicola Pratt, Lecturer in Comparative Politics and International Relations at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, write, “Official rhetoric puts women at center stage, but we show that in reality women’s rights and women’s lives have been exploited in the name of competing political agendas.”
The authors also challenge the widespread held belief in the Western media and among many U.S. politicians that something inherent in Middle Eastern, Muslim, and Iraqi culture is responsible for the ongoing violence, sectarianism, and systematic erosion of women’s rights in Iraq. “We argue that it is not Islam or ‘culture’ that has pushed Iraqi women back into their homes. Instead we blame specific and rapidly changing political, economic, and social conditions as well as a wide range of national, regional, and international actors,” they write.
When the Western media does highlight the plight of Iraqi women, they almost always fail to note that Iraqi women activists have been organizing since the 1920 revolution against British occupation. The Women’s Awakening Club, the first women’s organization in Iraq, was founded in 1923. The Iraqi Women’s Union, a feminist organization founded in 1945, tackled previously taboo issues such as prostitution, divorce, workplace issues, child custody, and property rights.
“Iraqi women were once at the forefront of the region with regard to women’s education, labor force participation, and political activism,” write Al-Ali and Pratt.
They argue that it is essential for antiwar movements to address the issue of women’s rights and resist U.S. imperialism simultaneously. “Any analysis of what went wrong in Iraq must put gender firmly on the agenda.”
AlterNet caught up with Nadje Al-Ali on a recent visit to San Francisco. Al-Ali is founding member of Act Together: Women’s Action for Iraq, a UK-based group formed in 2000 to campaign against the economic sanctions on Iraq and since late 2001, the U.S. invasion of Iraq. On August 1, 2007, Al-Ali’s uncle and 16-year-old cousin were killed in their home in Baghdad by unmasked gunmen.
Read the Rest of the Interview Here: http://www.alternet.org/story/130338/