Women were treated better during the dictatorship.Within the Arab world, they were seen as the women with the most rights. They could go to school, have a job, and travel in relative safety. After the U.S invasion in 2003, this all changed. People were happy with the new freedoms that surfaced under democracy, but felt oppressed by the violence and worsening conditions for women.
Hear from women living in Iraq:
I spoke with an Iraqi woman living in Central Ohio who experienced this shift. She told me how being a Christian woman made her a target for Islamic Extremist groups. These groups stole from, raped, and killed other Christian families in her area. This is ultimately what made her flee with her family.
In their 2008 report on Iraq, Women for Women International confirmed how bad things have gotten:
The impact of violence and insecurity can be seen in everything from statistics to anecdotes. In the worst parts of Iraq, the average Iraqi must worry about car bombs, random shootings, snipers; ethnic cleansing, kidnapping, torture, and execution by militant groups, as well as the potential for collateral damage from American or Iraqi security forces operations.Piling onto the threat of violence is the non-violent disruption of everyday life, for instance:
- Food prices skyrocketed as a result of farmers lacking the necessary resources to plant and harvest. According to Women for Women International, the bread prices quintupled and tomato prices quadrupled.
- It is impossible to find a steady and safe job. This causes household incomes to plummet.
- School is a labyrinth of issues. Girls are threatened if they attend, no jobs are available to graduates, families can no longer afford fees, single mothers are not permitted to register their children, and the level of safety is dubious.
Today, women are taking a stand against the government and demanding equal rights.
Some of the issues they are facing include: low representation in the work force, gender-based violence, and culture/religion. According to "Gender Profile Iraq: A situational analysis on gender equality and women's empowerment in Iraq", the workforce is only 15% female, with the majority residing in rural areas functioning as agricultural workers. This low representation is due to a variety of factors, including a lack of access to education, resources, and support. Additionally, it is common for the husband to stop his wife from working. Gender-based violence occurs and perpetuates fear because there are not sufficient protections in place to defend women from harassment. In the following clip from the Al Jazeera documentary "'I Felt I Was Going to Die': Battling Domestic Violence in Iraq", an Iraqi woman describes her experience with domestic abuse.
Culture and religion play a big role in the hurdles modern Iraqi women must face. Traditionally, Iraqi culture has been patriarchal and reliant on a interpretation of Islam that represses women. One practice that has been particularly detrimental to women is pleasure marriages. Pleasure marriages are agreements that for a dowry a woman will be your wife for a short period of time, typically ranging from 1 day to a month. This is illegal under Iraqi law, but legal under religious law. Licensed marriage officials have been known to officiate these marriages and act as pimps who get young girls to enter into these agreements. There is little to no enforcement of Iraqi law banning this practice.
Recently, religious leaders have made calls for the segregation of men and women within anti-government rallies, and women took to the streets to protest. In Sofia Barbarani's Al Jazeera article "Hundreds of women challenge Al-Sadar's call for segregation", she talks to women protesters and shares their opinions on the current situation.
"Society inside the square has changed," said one of the march organisers, 23-year-old Fatama Ramadan. "You can see there's a difference [in how women are perceived] between inside and outside [of Tahrir Square]."
In Iraq, where gender segregation is often the norm, protesters have challenged the country's conservative communities by sharing the same living quarters and ensuring the equal participation of both sexes.
"Taking into consideration that the challenges of violence [are] so great against them, but they have broken down all these tribal norms, the religious fatwa, the hegemony of male mentality against them. This is a new era we are living in," said 74-year-old Hanaa Edwar, an Iraqi civil rights activist.
"They are very much different from the old generation in this respect," said Edwar, who has been active in women's rights movements for more than 50 years.
Edwar praised Iraq's young women for their public expression of anger and confidence in taking on the long-standing patriarchal norms and challenging the recent attempts to exclude them from the country's popular uprising and the public sphere. This, she went on to say, is unique to today's women of Iraq.