Salam Faraj, AFP
Last updated: 8 March, 2012

Women deplore restrictions in male-dominated Iraq

Iraqi women sharply criticised societal restrictions placed upon them in events marking International Women’s Day on Thursday, arguing they were second-class citizens in male-dominated Iraq.

Officials attempted to highlight apparent progress made by women since now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein’s ouster in 2003.

But activists and attendees at separate events organised by the government and a coalition of civil society groups said women in Iraq faced massive challenges.

“Iraqi women suffer marginalisation and all kinds of violence, including forced marriages, divorces and harassment, as well as restrictions on their liberty, their education, their choice of clothing, and their social life,” said Hanaa Edwar, head of the charity Al-Amal (‘Hope’ in Arabic).

Edwar was one of the organisers of a conference on violence against women in central Baghdad’s Karrada district.

“Our society is heading towards a deterioration when it comes to women’s rights, and it will take many years to improve the situation,” Ines Abdulsattar, a 31-year-old employee at the Iraqi foreign ministry, told AFP at the conference.

Women’s Minister Ibtihal al-Zaidi insisted in an interview with AFP on Sunday that the rights of women in Iraq were better than before 2003, especially after security improved in recent years, but still predicted it would be “decades” before the country saw a female prime minister.

In a government-sponsored event to mark International Women’s Day at the al-Rasheed Hotel in Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone, Zaidi and other officials and MPs trumpeted progress in women’s rights in recent years, but many attendees were less positive.

“This is just another day — there is nothing special about this day for Iraqi women because they are not getting the respect they deserve in this male-dominated society,” said Nina Ghazali.

Pointing to her knee-length skirt, the 24-year-old continued: “We cannot wear these clothes on the street, and society does not accept that girls also go to cafes, or come home late at night.”

“This is not freedom,” she said. “This is darkness.”

Until the 1980s, Iraqi women were widely considered to have more rights than their counterparts across the Middle East, but they have suffered in the face of brutal violence, Islamist extremism, and a run-down education system.

Overall violence has declined since it peaked in 2006 and 2007, but Iraqi women remain victims of violence, trafficking, forced marriage at a young age, and kidnapping for confessional or criminal reasons, NGOs say.