2003 May 29 Thursday
Iraqi Women Fearful They Will Lose Rights To Fundamentalists

The pressure is on in Basra to wear head scarves.

The cleric appointed to run the educational system in Basra, Ahmad al-Malek, declared that female teachers would not be allowed to receive their emergency salary payment if they appeared without a head scarf.

Female students at the university said they were being harassed by followers of these Shiite clerics for not wearing head scarves, and many shops in the market have put up signs that read, "My sister, cover your hair."

Whose idea was it to appoint a cleric to run the schools in Basra? Political Islam is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Covering of the head is now done by the majority of women even in Baghdad.

Even in Baghdad, the most socially progressive city in one of the most socially progressive Arab countries, women who leave their hair uncovered are now in the minority.

The disorder is contributing to the inability of women to play a role to create new institutions of government in Iraq. Women are afraid to go out because the streets are too dangerous for women.

But the streets of Baghdad illustrate Momad's most immediate problem. They are almost devoid of women. In shops and marketplaces, along bustling main thoroughfares and in neighborhood alleys, men outnumber women 20-to-1, remarkable in a nation where the population is 55 percent female.

Some women area afraid the Muslim clerics will come to power.

“If the imams rule, they would forbid everything, even development technology like satellite dishes, the Internet and mobile phones,” said Salah, 35, as she sat on a dilapidated chair in the burned-out government building for cinema and theatrical arts where she used to work. “They just want religion. My nephew is an imam in the mosque, and we argue about this all the time. I don’t want him to rule this country.”

In the last decade women were losing ground in Iraq as Saddam Hussein enacted changes in the law designed to appeal to harder core Muslims.

One edict banned women from traveling outside Iraq without a male relative. Women interviewed said the extra financial burden effectively ended foreign travel for them.

Professional women said Saddam's power structure shut them out: Young men with lower test scores beat out women for prize slots in universities. Harassment made it impossible for many women to hold a department-head position.

The US occupation administration should make it a point to appoint Iraqi women to higher level administration positions. It should also prevent the local authorities from creating rules that are aimed to keep down women.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 May 29 01:45 AM  Mideast Iraq Freedom Rights


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