WASHINGTON - In many ways, Iraqi women are worse
off than before U.S. forces ousted Saddam Hussein and are too
afraid to play a big political role for fear of being a target
of extremists, a senior U.N. official said on Tuesday.
Noeleen Heyzer, executive director of the United Nations
Development Fund for Women, said the poor security situation
prevented women from playing a bigger role in rebuilding Iraq.
In many ways, Iraqi women are worse off than before U.S. forces ousted Saddam Hussein and are too afraid to play a big political role for fear of being a target of extremists, a senior U.N. official said on September 23, 2003. Noeleen Heyzer, executive director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women, said the poor security situation prevented women from playing a bigger role in rebuilding Iraq. Iraqi women and children are shown during a joint U.S.-Iraqi raid in a settlement north of Tikrit Sept. 14. Photo by Arko Datta/Reuters
"For many women, they do not want to take the risk. They
have seen what happened to Akila al-Hashemi," Heyzer said.
Hashemi, one of three women on the Iraqi Governing Council, was
critically wounded in an attack in Baghdad last Saturday.
"We need to address this culture of fear and the culture of
terrorism as until you do that you are not going to have people
(women) participating," Heyzer said at a lunch to discuss the
role of women in conflict zones.
The United States has said women should play a big role in
rebuilding Iraq but Heyzer, whose organization promotes women's
rights and tries to improve the lot of women in developing
countries, said many women saw the risk as being too high.
"Even if they want to engage they feel they can't at the
moment," she said.
TOO AFRAID TO GO OUT
In many areas, Iraqi women were too afraid to take their
children to school for fear of them being attacked and some
were being forced by male relatives to wear veils as a means of
"They are trying to get on with everyday life ... but life
is, in that sense, worse for Iraqi women even though there are
possibilities of greater opportunities as they move toward
democracy," she told Reuters.
Heyzer said there was a contest between moderates and
extremists to win over women in Iraq and the international
community needed to do more to support women, who were among
the most educated in the Middle East.
"There was a lot of hope that the lives (of women) would
improve ... but we have a situation where a lot of extremists
have come into the country and women do not want to live under
Before the bombing of the U.N.'s headquarters in Baghdad
last month, Heyzer said the United Nations had mobilized about
450 women for a national symposium.
But after the bombing, she said this meeting was canceled
and those women were now too frightened to become openly
involved in such a process.
"Now they want to be involved under the radar screen and to
have local consultations. When the timing is right we will
bring them all back together again."
Under Saddam's rule, she said women had played some
leadership roles but that they had been ignored at the local
level and this was where her organization was working hardest
© 2003 Reuters Limited