I am in regular touch with several Iraqi women (ranging in age from 14 to 60-something), as well as a larger number of men. I am glad some of our colleagues are working on Iraqi issues and eager to discuss then more in depth.
Yanar’s plea for a boycott of the referendum was interesting and might have worked if we could have gotten the word out broadly, but I would rather see a focus on educating Iraqi women as to the dangers of this constitution to their own freedoms.
What do Iraqi women want and how can we help them achieve their goals? I think that Inge’s idea of an e-mail poll is a good one, but I want to point out that most Iraqi women do not at present have easy access to e-mail. Most of them don’t have electricity at home, unless there’s a working generator and a way to get gasoline to keep it going (no easy feat). And many women do not go to Internet cafés because of safety or other issues. So it’s a great idea but difficult.
Of course there is no one "woman's voice" in Iraq, just as elsewhere. Women in Iraq are of different economic, social, religious, political, and cultural backgrounds. The one thing I can say with surety is that all of my female Iraqi friends, and indeed all Iraqi women (with a few exceptions, perhaps) are really finding it hard to concentrate on how they will have a political voice. They want, even before any political considerations:
* the ability to walk out of their homes, and let their children and husbands and other loved ones walk out of their homes, without worrying that one of them will never come back alive
* security in their own homes as well -- security from intrusion, bombs, kidnappings, toxic materials, murder, rape
* basic human needs such as electricity, communications, clean water, adequate food, and secure and worthwhile schools and health care facilities
* decent, living-wage jobs for the members of their families who want and need them
* Iraqi control of rebuilding their country
* Iraqi control of the oil industry and other sectors of the Iraqi economy
* an end to the occupation of their country by a foreign superpower
* the Iraqi people's control of their own destiny
* compensation for the hardships they have endured, especially for damage or destruction of their homes in bombings and other "war" damage, unlawful incarcerations of themselves and their loved ones, destruction of property, and the deaths of their family members. Not that anyone can adequately compensate for these losses, but the US offering $5,000 for "pain and suffering," without an apology or admission of culpability, to a woman with four children whose husband was "accidentally" killed by US military is simply an affront to human dignity and compassion.
Despite the fact that their attention is so otherwise occupied, Iraqi women do want to protect the rights they enjoyed for so long in a relatively secular society. For the most part it wasn’t until the 1990 sanctions were imposed on the country that Iraqi women began to feel oppressed. Before that the country had enjoyed a high standard of living, women were well educated and often worked in the professions as well as in other jobs that in some countries would have been considered men’s domains, and generally were “liberated,” certainly so by Middle Eastern standards. But let us remember that the social and economic oppression they felt did not come from the hated regime but from the United States by way of UN sanctions.
So, what do Iraqi women want? I will certainly ask my Iraqi women friends who can access e-mail (often or occasionally) what their responses would be to Inge’s suggested questions. (I know their responses to some of them, having had these discussions often.) I hope the dialogue can spread somehow; perhaps among us we can try to get a certain number of responses (can we get 200? I can probably start with 10 and ask those women to share), compile them, and share them. Any thoughts on whom to share them with? Yanar?