Women's Bodies Are
Battlefields For War Vendettas
By Kavita N. Ramdas
21 December, 2006
Global Fund for Women
of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) recently issued a frightening report
documenting the growing practice of public executions of women by Shia
Militia. One of the report's more grisly accounts was a story of a young
woman dragged by a wire wound around her neck to a close-by football
field and then hung to the goal post. They pierced her body with bullets.
Her brother came running trying to defend his sister. He was also shot
and killed. Sunni extremists are no better: OWFI members estimate that
no less than 30 women are executed monthly for honor related reasons.
Almost four years into the
Bush Administration's ill fated adventure in Iraq, Iraqi women are worse
off than they were under the Baathist regime in a country where, for
decades, the freedoms and rights enjoyed by Iraqi women were the envy
of women in most other countries of the Middle East.
Before the U.S. invasion,
Iraqi women had high levels of education. Their strong and independent
women's movement had successfully forced Saddam's government to pass
the groundbreaking 1959 Family Law Act which ensured equal rights in
matters of personal law. Iraqi women could inherit land and property;
they had equal rights to divorce and custody of their children; they
were protected from domestic violence within the marriage. In other
words, they had achieved real gains in the struggle for equality between
women and men. Iraqi women, like all Iraqis, certainly suffered from
the political repression and lack of freedom, but the secular -- albeit
brutal -- Baathist regime protected women from the religious extremism
that denies freedom to a majority of women in the Arab world.
The invasion of Iraq, however,
changed the status of Iraqi women for the worse. Iraq's new colonial
power, the United States, elevated a new group of leaders, most of who
were allied with ultra conservative Shia clerics. Among the Sunni minority,
the quick disappearance of their once dominant political power led to
a resurgence of religious identity. Consequently, the Kurds, celebrated
for their history of resistance to the Iraqi dictator, were able to
reclaim traditions like honor killings, putting thousands of women at
Iraqi sectarian conflict
has exacerbated violence against women, making women's bodies the battlefields
on which vendettas and threats are played out. My organization, The
Global Fund for Women, and the humanitarian community has long known
that the presence of military troops in a region of conflict increases
the rate of prostitution, violence against women, and the potential
for human trafficking.
While many believed that
interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq would result in greater freedoms
for women, international women's rights organizations like the Global
Fund for Women were highly skeptical of the Bush administration's claims
from the start. US representatives in Iraq failed to even listen to,
much less validate, the voices of independent and secular Iraqi women
leaders like Yana Mohammed during the process of drafting the constitution.
As a result, the Iraqi constitution elevated Islamic law over constitutional
rights for matters pertaining to personal and family matters.
For the first time in over
50 years of Iraq's history, Iraqi women's right to be treated as equal
citizens has been overturned. This disgrace has happened on the watch
of the United States. In many ways, it is no less shameful than the
human rights abuses that occurred at Abu Ghraib. If left unchallenged,
it has the potential to affect many thousands of innocent lives in the
years to come.
Since the US has failed to
protect Iraqi women's rights, a new Secretary General of the United
Nations must demonstrate the courage and conviction to take action.
The women of Iraq deserve nothing less. We owe them at least this much.
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