Friday, January 28, 2005

On Being a Woman in "Liberated" Iraq

Maybe we should stop listening to the old rich white guys about "women's liberation" and start talking to the women. They might have something to say about it.

Read it all here:

I am an Iraqi woman, and I am boycotting Sunday's elections. Women who do vote will be voting for an enslaved future. Surely, say those who support these elections, after decades of tyranny, here at last is a form of democracy, imperfect, but democracy nevertheless?

In reality, these elections are, for Iraq's women, little more than a cruel joke. Amid the suicide attacks, kidnappings and US-led military assaults of the 20-odd months since Saddam's fall, the little-reported phenomenon is the sharp increase in the persecution of Iraqi women. Women are the new victims of Islamic groups intent on restoring a medieval barbarity and of a political establishment that cares little for women's empowerment.

Having for years enjoyed greater rights than other women in the Middle East, women in Iraq are now losing even their basic freedoms. The right to choose their clothes, the right to love or marry whom they want. Of course women suffered under Saddam. I fled his cruel regime. I personally witnessed much brutality, but the subjugation of women was never a goal of the Baath party. What we are seeing now is deeply worrying: a reviled occupation and an openly reactionary Islamic armed insurrection combining to take Iraq into a new dark age.

Every day, leaflets are distributed across the country warning women against going out unveiled, wearing make-up, or mixing with men. Many female university students have given up their studies to protect themselves against the Islamists.

Read the rest.

4 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. I will admit to massive ignorance in this area, and I support Iraqi women wholeheartedly. I wonder, though, if willingly giving up one of the few rights they actually -do- have the best way for women in Iraq to campaign for their rights? It seems to me that this is a tactic that is bound to backfire. Won't it just give ammunition to the misogynistic factions--won't they then just claim that women aren't interested in voting or cannot handle the responsibility? If women do not vote, they are guaranteed not to have a say in their new government.

In many ways this reminds me of the situation in the US. The two-party system is an obvious failure, and it's not possible for many of us to vote for a candidate we believe will govern according to our priorities. I wasn't all that impressed with Kerry, but I voted for him anyway because he was the best option available. Not voting would have guaranteed that my voice wouldn't be heard. And my voice was heard, even though Bush won.

Granted, this is a really complex issue, but I just don't see how boycotting the elections is a wise choice for Iraqi women. 

Posted by Sarah Brodwall

Anonymous said...

The question is, to say the least, a complex one. Sarah may be right when she declares that a widespread boycott will certainly give the islamists ammunition to put women's suffrage under fire, but it's clearly a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't sitation, as the parties which are about to seize the power would have no qualms in dismissing any claim that Iraqi women are under attack relying precisely on their participation in the voting process.
People are too quick to depend on some token statistics (all the more when it's a socially higly symbolic one, but I'll come back to this in a second) to prove their earlier assumptions and justify their indifference, disguised under the pretense of "we'll see later". How many times have we heard, for instance, that the recent increase in Blacks on tv means discrimination has ceased in the media ?

Furthermore, Sarah draws an analogy between the US elections and the matter at hands in Iraq. While it acknowledges the fact that the accuracy of representation inevitably arises in a political system legitimized by civic delegation, it fails to address one central element. Two, in fact. First, the "choice" that is ever so graciously given to Iraqi people has nothing to do with democracy. Their country is under occupation, and it will remain this way after the elections, which will have absolutely no incidence on this rather critical subject.
To give you an idea, and I'm trying to chose an example that will strike a chord with you, based on its status in American historiography, imagine if the German forces had encouraged elections in nazified Europe, but allowing only collaborationist parties. It still wouldn't have changed a thing; whether a dictator as Pétain or a string of elected Hitlerians ruled the government made no difference at all as long as the effective decision-making process, along with the justice and police (by which I mean the forces that maintained the order, thus including such central organizations as the Army, Secret Services, and civilian militias, aka paramilitaries), remained in the hands of the Germans.
Thus, Sarah's affirmation that women's voices will be heard even if the winning candidates oppose is more than highly unlikely, it's delusional (no offense intended, of course).

This leads me to my second point, which is even more troubling. Even when there is no pressure from an outside source, indirect democracies do NOT work if they're systemically flawed. Not that I want to pick a fight with you over your choice in the US elections, Sarah, but do you really think your voice was heard if the results were manipulated and the actual results never shown, as the evidence proves ?
Anyway, and more to the point, civic delegation only works if there is a wide array of opinions and candidates, so that there will at least be one who more or less accurately represents your input on things. If what is presented as variety is nothing but make-up, the whole political process becomes a shameful deception, because we have become convinced that the right to vote sums up all the obligations and possibilities of democracy.
It is a social lure given to us. Not that I want every citizen to be armed (far from me), but we should be implicated in politics constantly, not every once in a while after the façade is fed to us.
What the Iraqi women really are saying is that they are not fooled by all the ongoing talk, and that they refuse to willingly participate in the puppet master's game.

Will it work ? Hard to say. In the long run, it depends on their capacity to stay alert, and not resign themselves to the crumbs launched at them. Not easy when you're looking at decades. It is sadly what expects them, now that the hounds are loose. 

Posted by Ask, and you shall receive. Or not.

Anonymous said...

Sorry,it's "situation" (line 4), and "the question of the accuracy .." (line 2, second paragraph).

Anyway, I wanted to add, Kameron, that the article you took the excerpt from gives chilling examples of crimes committed against women since the US invasion, and shows that it comes not only from extremists, but from the core of society, that is to say traditional families (not that family is the cement of society, or anything like that. Arghhh !!). The old mantra of "honour and shame" is back..I must say that the passage where the man whose wife is presumably being raped cries "don't touch my honour" has deeply disturbed me. This objectification, at that particular moment...

What's interesting is that we can only come to the conclusion that the sexist currents remained strong under the Baath party, but could not express themselves due to the political stand of the government. That should definitely dispel the notion that political and judiciary pressure isn't necessary to the feminist cause. Obvious, yes, but I kid you not. There are some people who really believe that visible actions are more detrimental than anything else, because of the backlash of obscurantist groups.
Conservatist theories undermine everything, I swear. What happened to the whole "no backing down, no defining our choices by theirs"?  

Posted by Ask, and you shall receive. Or not.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff.

I admit to being baffled at the idea of non-participation as a form of protest.. almost. If you look at, say, South Africa, protest took the form of *not* engaging with the system by not carrying "pass" books identifying your employer and "homeland," forcing police to put hordes of people into jail, and eventually running out of jail space. It meant protesting "petty" apartheid like black vs. white benches by sitting on the "wrong" one, as in the Civil Rights movement here, and generally just mucking up the government's shoddy system by overtaxing it. If everybody's breaking the law, maybe the law's the problem, not the people...

And yet, I can understand having issues with some people in this country who choose not to vote as a protest against "the system," as if that's all you do to fight "the man," it feels lame and counter-productive. It reminds me of those "black-out" websites that protested the inauguration by going silent - just the sort of thing this administration would have wanted: shut up all the dissenters.

At the same time, I sure as hell wouldn't want to participate in a government that was forced on me - especially if choosing one over the other just meant a different form of oppression: and then I'd be pattedon the head every morning and told, "But, darling, you're voice was heard! This is what you voted for!" I sure felt that frustration, too, with our two-party system. My boss came in after voting and said that his immediate impression, upon looking at the ballet, was "Is this all I get?"

What's happened with Iraq, as this woman points out, is that the US "liberation" has opened the floodgates for futher extremists, and it means women there will have to fight harder, and I'd bet that this administration isn't going to be hard-pressed to help them out, looking at their dismal record here at home.

Whoever "wins" the "election" in Iraq, whatever policies they put into places regarding women will probably be polices we won't touch - we're so pleased and happy to see this much-toted "election" that you're not going to hear what happens afterwards when we leave this "new" country in the dust. It'll be up to "the Iraqi people." And CNN will go radio silence on Iraq.

One of the things I'm deeply concerned about is just how little we do know about what's really going on in Iraq. One of my coworkers is there now, and I've been keeping tabs on an edited blog from a woman serving there, and by all counts from those actually on the ground, things are really fucking bad, cozy-Bush-talk notwishstanding.

Rebuilding Japan took a long, long, time. If Bush tries to pull troops out immediately after elections, things will get worse. If he puts more people in there, things might get better, but he'll lose whatever "popular" support he has for the war (all 51%). He's just sort of screwed, and a lot of people are being screwed over in the process.

Whatever Iraqi women decide to do, it'll be them that have to do it, and about all we can do on this end is try and support whatever local programs and protests they want to implement.

Which, again, will be nearly impossible: right now, the biggest hurdle facing women political candidates is *not getting killed*.

I don't have a solution to this one either.  

Posted by Kameron Hurley