International Women's Day
These women inspire me. If they haven't given up hope, I have no right to.
BAGHDAD (AFP) - Scores of women rallied outside a Baghdad hotel on Saturday demanding an end to violence and equal social status with men as part of the observations of International Women's Day.
"Stop neglecting women. Stop killing women. Stop creating widows," read a large banner that the women, from various ethnic and religious backgrounds, held at the Babylon Hotel in Baghdad's central Karada neighbourhood.
After the rally, the protesters joined a much larger group that included men and children at a hotel conference room to hear from various speakers.
One of the speakers was Nariman Mahmoud Othman, minister for women's rights, who led a delegation of women to the office of the head of Iraq's parliament, Mahmoud Mashhadani, with a list of issues concerning women's rights they wanted to discuss.
The list also called for more women to be appointed to positions of power, including ministries and embassies.
Another speaker was Maisoon Al-Damloji, a female member of parliament from the secular Iraqia party.
"We are united today in our desire to spread the peace in our country," she said. "We reject murder, torture and revenge."
Women in Iraq "suffered during Saddam's time and during the embargo, and now are suffering because of sectarian violence," she said.
Iraq's constitution reserves 25 percent of the country's 275 seats of parliament for women, though not all are currently filled because in some cases female candidates were unavailable.
Orbia Tawfiq, a professor at Baghdad's College of Arts, said "we demand that women be given their rights. They should not be oppressed and they should be treated like human beings. "Women must not be treated as commodities. They must be granted freedom in choosing their husbands and careers," she said.
Mohar Abdel Hamid, 38, said that the needs of widows like herself must be addressed. "I hope the government listens to us because women have always suffered in Iraq," she told AFP.
A recent report by US-based Women For Women International said the state of Iraqi women since the March 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq has become a "national crisis."
According to the report, released Thursday, 64 percent of the women surveyed said violence against them had increased since the war. "When asked why, respondents most commonly said that there is less respect for women's rights than before, that women are thought of as possessions and that the economy has gotten worse," it said. The report also found that 76 percent of the women interviewed said that girls in their families were forbidden from attending school.
No, it's not a grassroots event. My cynical self knows it's taking place with U.S. encouragement and under U.S. guard. The occupiers may even hope that any demonstration by women will be seen as a sign that "we're bringing freedom." Nobody's fooled, guys. The occupation has been a disaster for the Iraqi people in general, but especially for Iraqi women.
Update: 5:30 pm, 8 March - Speaking of which: Accounts of daily life for non-elite Iraqi women. Be warned, those of you with a heart; these stories will make you want to rip it out.
I'd advise my Iraqi sisters demanding more women be appointed to positions of power not to put too much stock in the results of that. Too few of the women in power here seem to want to end the occupation any time soon.