Iraq: Women’s Day

Surviving Somehow Behind a Concrete Purdah

Published on IPS, by Dahr Jamail, March 6, 2008.

… Iraq, where women once had more rights and freedom than most others in the Arab world, has turned deadly for women who dream of education and a professional career.

Former dictator Saddam Hussein maintained a relatively secular society, where it was common for women to take up jobs as professors, doctors and government officials. In today’s Iraq, women are being killed by militia groups for not conforming to strict Islamist ways.

Basra police chief Gen. Jalil Hannoon told reporters and Arab TV channels in December that at least 40 women had been killed during the previous five months in that city alone.

“We are sure there are many more victims whose families did not report their killing for fear of scandal,” Gen. Hannoon said …

… Confined to home, many women live in isolation and depression.

“Women have nowhere to go to spend leisure time,” Um Ali, a married woman in Baquba, told IPS. “Our time is spent only at home now. I have not travelled outside Baquba for more than four years. The only place I can go to is my parents’ home. Housekeeping and children have been all my life; I have no goals to attain, no education to complete. Sometimes, I can’t leave home for weeks.”

In northern Kurdish controlled Iraq, ‘honour killings’ continue. In the ancient tradition of ‘honour killing’, the view is that a family’s honour is paramount. As of last December, at least 27 Kurdish women were murdered on suspicion of having had ‘illicit’ affairs in the previous four months, according to Youssif Mohamed Aziz, the regional minister of human rights.

Iraqi women are not spared U.S. military prisons either. In December, Iraq’s parliamentary committee for women’s and children’s affairs demanded the release of female detainees in Iraqi and U.S.-run prisons.

According to Nadira Habib, deputy head of the parliamentary committee, there are around 200 women detained in the Iraqi run al-Adala prison in Baghdad. Habibi says there are presumably women in U.S.-run prisons too. “But no one knows how many female detainees are now in prisons run by U.S. forces as they always refuse requests from our committee to visit them.”

As the central government remains essentially powerless, and religious fundamentalism continues to grow across Iraq, it appears that the plight of Iraqi women will get worse. (full text).

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