lunes, marzo 31, 2008

The Iraq Legacy: Millions of Women's Lives Destroyed

Politicians hoped the Iraq war would see the advance of women's rights. Instead, Iraqi women face violence, sexual abuse and segregation.
On International Women's Day in 2004, nearly a year after the invasion of Iraq, George Bush, the US President, addressed 250 women from around the world who had gathered at the White House. "The advance of women's rights and the advance of liberty are ultimately inseparable," he said. Supported by his wife Laura, who herself hailed the administration's success in achieving greater rights for Afghan women, the president claimed that "the advance of freedom in the greater Middle East has given new rights and new hopes to women there."
Advance. New rights. New hopes. Stirring stuff, but totally empty claims. In fact, Iraq's women have become the biggest losers in the post-invasion disaster. While men have borne the brunt in terms of direct armed violence, women have been particularly hard-hit by poverty, malnutrition, lack of health services and a crumbling infrastructure, not least chronic
power cuts which in some areas of Iraq see electricity only available for two hours a day.
More than 70 percent of the
four million people forced out of their homes in the past five years in Iraq have been women and children. Many have found temporary shelter with relatives who share their limited space, food and supplies. But this, according to the UN refugee agency, has created "rising tension between families over scarce resources." Many displaced women and children find themselves in unsanitary and overcrowded public buildings under constant threat of eviction.
Meanwhile, rampant political violence has also engulfed women in Iraq. Islamist militias with links to political parties in government and insurgent groups opposing both the government and the occupation have particularly targeted Iraqi women and girls. A new Islamist puritanism is seeing women and girls being violently
pressured to conform to rigid dress codes. Personal movement and social behaviour are being "regulated," with acid attacks (deliberately designed to disfigure "transgressive" women's faces), just one of the sanctions of the new moral guardians of post-Saddam Iraq.
Suad F, a former accountant and mother of four children who lives in a previously mixed neighbourhood in Baghdad, was telling me during a visit to Amman in 2006: "I resisted for a long time, but last year also started wearing the hijab, after I was threatened by several Islamist militants in front of my house. They are terrorising the whole neighbourhood, behaving as if they were in charge. And they are actually controlling the area. No one dares to challenge them. A few months ago they distributed leaflets around the area warning people to obey them and demanding that women should stay at home."
By 2008, the threat posed by Islamist militias and extremist groups has gone far beyond dress codes and calls for gender segregation at universities. Despite -- or even partly because of US and UK rhetoric about liberation and women's rights -- women have been pushed back into their homes.
Women who have a public profile -- as teachers, doctors, academics, lawyers, NGO activists or politicians -- are now systematically
threatened, seen as legitimate targets for assassinations. Criminal gangs have joined in. Though rarely reported in Britain, the criminal kidnapping of women for ransom, for trafficking into forced prostitution outside Iraq, and for out and out sexual abuse have all taken root in post-Saddam Iraq.

To read the complete article HERE.

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