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Hope Amidst a Backslide in Women's Rights
Published on Monday, April 19, 2004 by
Hope Amidst a Backslide in Women's Rights
by Carol Norris

We’re coming. From New York and Oregon, Idaho and Texas, Minnesota, California, New Mexico - from all parts of the country by the bus full, in caravans, on planes, by train, we’re coming. Women who’ve never done anything like this in their lives. Women of all ages and races and sexual orientations. By the hundreds of thousands, we’re converging on Washington, D.C. on April 25 for the “March for Women’s Lives,” a march not only for reproductive freedom, but for justice and dignity.

We’re coming to say we can’t believe we have to come out here again, but we’ll do it a hundred more times if we have to. We’re coming to say we’re thunderstruck that a handful of powerful, ultra-conservatives whose job it is to represent the U.S. people are ignoring the opinion of the majority of those people who support a woman’s right to choose. We’re coming to say we absolutely will not sit quietly by and watch our freedoms be chipped away law by law, appointee by appointee.

We see the slide down the slippery slope to full eradication of Roe v. Wade. The Bush administration has made law the partial abortion ban. Those who’ve had abortions are having their medical records subpoenaed, an invasion of privacy once unthinkable. Lifetime seats are being appointed to anti-choice, ultra-conservative judges, sometimes under the radar screen via recess appointments. Much needed money is being shifted from effective family planning programs to what many experts say are decidedly ineffective and out of step abstinence-only education programs.

And as we come together in historic numbers to oppose these alarming developments, we march not only for ourselves, but for the women of the world because we know it isn’t only the freedoms of U.S. women that are under attack, but the women of Iraq and the world, as well.

Just as Bush is working hard to drag U.S. women back to pre-1973 status, the Bush administration-appointed Interim Governing Council and its supporters threaten to drag Iraqi women back to pre-1959 status with its Code 137. This resolution would relegate women to a time when they weren’t permitted to travel freely, a time of forced marriages and no education, a time when women weren’t allowed the work opportunities afforded to men, leaving them entirely dependent on their husbands. In short, it threatens to wrench the legal status of Iraqi women back to the dark ages, their lives unspeakably changed.

Thankfully, the initial push for Code 137 was defeated. But make no mistake, it hasn’t been forgotten. Conservative clerics and political parties like the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq are vowing to try and restore it once control is turned over to the Iraqis on June 30th.

Of course, it isn’t just the women in Iraq and the U.S. who are under siege. Sadly, there are more examples of women around the world struggling for their lives and freedoms than there are hours to write about them - like the women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, just across the border from El Paso. Hundreds of women are being brutally tortured and murdered as the Mexican government and the U.S. factory owners, where many of the women work, hardly bat an eye.

Amnesty International reports, “Two years after the beginning of the military action against the Taleban, the women of Afghanistan are still subject to horrific abuses, from honour killings to forced and underage marriage, virginity testing, and prosecution and imprisonment for adultery.”

And the Bush administration is busily moving forward draconian foreign policies that will have a dreadful impact on women in developing countries. Apparently ignoring the reality of AIDS and mushrooming populations, Bush is once more pushing his abstinence programs, trying to block the dissemination of vital, life-saving information about condoms and family planning. In fact, Bush prohibits federal funding to any organization that performs or even advocates abortion laws similar to those in the U.S., preventing those organizations from getting condoms as part of a pregnancy-prevention program.

Just as with Iraq’s Code 137, many claim that at the core of Bush’s domestic and foreign family planning policies, as well as his thinly veiled pro-marriage initiatives, is a directive by religious ultra-conservatives who are threatened by a world becoming increasingly more modern and tolerant, and thus, less under their control.

And it’s this tolerant, compassionate global majority - not a “focus group” or a smattering of bleeding hearts - but a vast majority that provides hope.

There are countless stories of women and their allies who have spoken out loudly and visibly in India, in Central America, throughout Africa and the world over, even in the throes of the most dangerous of circumstances. Code 137 has been held at bay thus far because the women of Iraq took to the streets and stood up for their rights amidst the bombs and the ever-growing murders, rapes, and kidnappings of occupied Iraq.

So as women from every part of the country converge on Washington to march for women’s lives, we do it with indignation, but we also do it with hope. We carry with us the knowledge that we are part of a tolerant majority. The media and the fearful Bush administration can tell us differently, but we know better. We feel the groundswell and we hear the drumbeat. We know the world will continue to rise up, speak out, and say enough is enough.

We call on you, man or woman, to join us - non-violently, but no less powerfully - as we take a stand for women’s rights at home and abroad, because at a fundamental level this is about every single one of us. It’s about respect and freedom, interconnectedness and compassion. We call on you to speak out because the women of the world will in no way sit back as our freedoms are stripped away. Kurdish lawyer, Hassan Abdullah, said, "Iraqi women will accept [Code 137] over their dead bodies." But, there are already enough dying women in countries across the globe from war, domestic violence, poverty, violent kidnapping, dangerous sex trafficking, botched abortions, and AIDS. The world doesn’t need anymore.

Carol Norris ( is the National Organizer for CODEPINK: Women for Peace. To sign our petition calling for political and economic viability for the women of Iraq, and to find out how you can join us as we work for peace and justice, go to:


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