Published on Wednesday, April 19, 2006 by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
United States is No Help to Iraqi Women
by Bonnie Erbe
A new poll of leaders of Iraqi women's-rights groups finds that women were treated better and their civil rights were more secure under deposed President Saddam Hussein than under the faltering and increasingly sectarian U.S.-installed government.
This is doubly troubling. It's troubling first because the Bush administration used the issue of women to justify its now widely criticized invasion of Iraq in part by promising to improve the situation of women.
It's troubling second because the administration has issued news releases, held public meetings and tried to gain media attention (as well as U.S. public support) for all the "good" it's supposedly doing the women of Iraq via this invasion.
The poll was released last week by the Integrated Regional Information Networks, a U.N. news agency covering sub-Saharan Africa, eight countries in central Asia, and Iraq.
IRIN reports the survey findings as follows: " ... women's basic rights under the Hussein regime were guaranteed in the constitution and more importantly respected, with women often occupying important government positions. Now, although their rights are still enshrined in the national constitution, activists complain that, in practice, they have lost almost all of their rights."
Moreover, leaders of women's groups say that in Iraq's new government, more men in power follow conservative Sharia (to wit, Islamic law) on women's rights and on their role in society. Senar Muhammad, president of the Baghdad-based non-government organization Woman Freedom Organization, is quoted by IRIN as saying, "When we tell the government we need more representation in parliament, they respond by telling us that, if well-qualified women appear one day, they won't be turned down. ... Then they laugh at us."
The report says more men are ordering women to "take the veil" (wear coverings from head to toe), and fewer women are working in professional jobs than when Saddam was in power.
Why did we not hear this news first from the Bush administration? Perhaps because the administration is too busy trying to put a positive "spin" on the situation in Iraq. A quick tour of the White House's own Web site reveals the administration has plenty of time to promote the kind of Iraqi women's events that make it look good. In November 2003, President Bush's public-relations personnel staged a photo op with female members of Iraq's Governing Council.
Bush is quoted as saying, "It's been my honor to host one of the most extraordinary meetings I've had as the president of the United States. I'm seated here with five courageous, brave Iraqi women who believe in the people of Iraq, believe in the future of Iraq, who love their freedoms, who look forward to working to see that their nation is a free and peaceful country." Seems this item is in need of a bit of updating.
Please don't take this news as an endorsement on my part of Saddam's regime. He was a bloodlust-ful dictator who deserves the same treatment he visited on dissidents: torture and death. But, that does not mean that some things were not better for Iraqis while he was in power.
He ran a functioning government that put down civil strife, kept basic services in place (water, sewer, electric), and he gave women more freedom than they've had since the U.S.-installed government took over.
Oh, and I'm sure the black-helicopter types (the guys who go rabid at the mention of the United Nations) will have a field day discrediting IRIN's report. But given that anti-U.N. types were the same guys who got us into the Iraq invasion in the first place, who has more credibility now? I vote for IRIN as the lesser of two evils.
© 2006 Seattle Post-Intelligencer