Friday, November 02, 2012

The crazy gets loose









Starting with Munaf al-Saedi (Niqash) who explores a new Facebook campaign:
One young Baghdad woman has ambitious plans for Iraqi women's rights – and she has started a Facebook campaign to back them. She already has 10,000 online supporters. NIQASH asks Ruqaya Abdul-Ali how this will translate to action/
She's not even 20 years old but Baghdadi university student Ruqaya Abdul-Ali has started a wildly successful Facebook campaign. It is called "Revolution Against Patriarchal Society" and it's only three months old – and already Abdul-Ali has got almost 10,000 supporters involved.
Abdul-Ali says she aims to educate Iraqi women about their rights, to stop sexual harassment in Iraqi society and to get some of the country's most discriminatory legislation changed. NIQASH asked her exactly how she plans to achieve those grand plans.
NIQASH: Could you tell us exactly what you mean by a "Revolution Against Patriarchal Society"? 

Abdul-Ali: It is a revolution against tribal, patriarchal norms and the traditions that deprive women of their basic rights, ones that cause them to live like machines whose sole purpose is to give birth and to do household tasks. It is a revolution that will make women more aware of their rights and help them become more informed, introducing them to new ideas. The campaign is about encouraging women to read and to educate themselves.
NIQASH: Why are you doing this?

Abdul-Ali: I launched this campaign on Facebook because of the pressures being put on women as a result of the revival of tribal traditions in Iraq [following the 2003 US-led invasion that ended former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's regime]. There are also increasing levels of violence, discrimination and verbal and sexual harassment.
The phenomenon of early and underage marriage also seems to be becoming more widespread and this prevents women from getting an education, not to mention the societal impact this has on divorced and widowed women.
And I used Facebook because I wanted to remind Iraqi women of their rights. Many women both inside and outside Iraq have joined the Facebook page and that number has almost reached 10,000. Many of them are human rights activists.
Iraqi women suffer in a multitude of ways as a result not limited to the hardships involved of war turning your nation into a country of widows and orphans.  In 2005, Ghali Hassan (Global Research) explained how Iraqi women were being robbed of their rights:
Prior to the arrival of U.S. forces, Iraqi women were free to go wherever they wish and wear whatever they like. The 1970 Iraqi constitution, gave Iraqi women equity and liberty unmatched in the Muslim World. Since the U.S. invasion, Iraqi women's rights have fallen to the lowest level in Iraq's history. Under the new U.S.-crafted constitution, which will be put to referendum on the 15 October while the bloodbath mounts each day, women's rights will be oppressed and the role of women in Iraqi society will be curtailed and relegated to the caring for "children and the elderly".
Immediately after the invasion, the U.S. embarked on cultivating friendships with religious groups and clerics. The aim was the complete destruction of nationalist movements, including women's rights movements, and replacing them with expatriate religious fanatics and criminals piggybacked from Iran, the U.S. and Britain. In the mean time the U.S. moved to liquidate any Iraqi opposition or dissent to the Occupation.
Iraqi women were not helped by the exiles the US government put in charge of Iraq or by the unrest the US government encouraged in an attempt to intimidate, silence and control the people.  No one has been more damaging than Nouri al-Maliki.  This can be seen by women in his Cabinet.  In his first term as Prime Minister, Nawal al-Samarraie served as Minister of Women's Affairs.  February 6, 2009, she was in the news when she resigned because her ministry was not properly funded (a meager monthly budget of $7,500 a month was slashed to $1,400) and she states, "I reached to the point that I will never be able to help the women." That was very embarrassing for Nouri. So naturally the New York Times worked overtime to ignore it. (See Third Estate Sunday Review's "NYT goes tabloid.") NPR's Corey Flintoff covered it for Morning Edition (link has text and audio).

Nouri didn't care for Nawal al-Samarraie or the needed attention she raised. Which was reflected in his second term when he tried to erase women completely. From the December 22, 2010 snapshot:

Turning to Iraq, Liz Sly and Aaron Davis (Washington Post) note, "A special gathering of the nation's parliament endorsed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for a second term in office, with lawmakers then voting one by one for 31 of the eventual 42 ministers who will be in his cabinet." AFP notes that all but one is a man, Bushra Hussein Saleh being the sole woman in the Cabinet. And they quote Kurdish MP Ala Talabani stating, "We congratulate the government, whose birth required eight months, but at the same time we are very depressed when we see the number of women chosen to head the ministries. Today, democracy was decapitated by sexism. The absence of women is a mark of disdain and is contrary to several articles of the constitution. I suggest to Mr Maliki to even choose a man for the ministry of women's rights, as you do not have confidence in women." Ala Talabani is the niece of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Imran Ali (Womens Views On News) reminds, "The new constitution stipulates that a quarter of the members of parliament be women and prohibits gender discrimination." Apparently concern about representation doesn't apply to the Cabinet (and, no, Nouri's attempts at offering excuses for the huge gender imbalance do not fly).

42 posts to fill and Nouri couldn't think of a single woman? And wouldn't have if Iraqi women hadn't gotten vocal on the issue. And note that Nouri increased the Cabinet from 31 in his first term to 42.   That tells you just how inclusive Nouri isn't. Also note that it was Iraqi women and they did it without any help from the United Nations which is so cowed that it refuses to stand up for women in Iraq.   Nouri also oversaw the appointment of commissioners to the so-called Independent High Electoral Commission.  While the United Nations tried so hard to find a rainbow in manure, the reality is that one third of the members were supposed to be women.  This is a point that the UN was making as late as the summer.  But when only one woman was named a commissioner, the UN decided to just pretend that didn't take place -- even when the Iraqi court ruled that, yes, a third of the commissioners should be women.  Maybe if the UN had pushed for the law and for women, that would have happened.  But it was much more important to the United Nations to use up all their happy face stickers that day than it was to stand up for Iraqi women. 
At the end of 2011, Iraqiya MP Nada Ibrahim explained to AFP, "It has been a very bad regression" for women in Iraq.  Last January, Equality in Iraq featured Emily Muna's interview with Housan Mahmoud (Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq) for Workers Liberty:
What issues do women in Iraq face?   Many: kidnapping, prostitution, sexual slavery, honour killings, stigmatising and marginalisation from wider society, as well as lack of employment and poor pay, so many different issues. Also, women aren't the only ones who suffer at the hands of patriarchy in the country. OWFI was the only organisation that stood up against homophobia and the murder of homosexuals in Iraq. We raised issues homosexual Iraqis face with Shi'a Islamists.   How usual is it for women to be employed? Has it become less usual as Iraqi society  moves towards Islamism?   It depends. Some places have always been deeply religious, while others are progressing towards Islamism. If a woman finds a job, she works, but it is all about who you know. Even prostitution is now an income for some women, if they get paid at all. Prostitution itself is illegal and we stand up for the welfare and employment and human rights of sex workers because they are victimised and dehumanised in such societies. I met some ex-prostitutes, and they were still in danger. They sought help from many women's groups, but were turned away for moral or security reasons.
Zhala Aziz (Warvin) reports that Sunday, October 21st, a marathon was held in Hawler.  (Hawler is in Erbil, a province of the Kurdistan Regional Government -- semi-autonomous area in northern Iraq.)  The marathon was for breast cancer and the city's Director of Health, Qasim Ali Aziz, explained, "To raise awareness among women and protect themselves against this disease, in the memory of breast cancer, we organized a marathon between the female high schools students with the commerical high schools girls." In addition, Jim and Deb Fine (Mennonite Central Commitee Iraq) reports on how bee keeping is creating opportunites for Iraqi women living in the KRG:
In the Yezidi village of Beban we met our first woman participant, Aasimah (not her real name), whose husband was kidnapped in Baghdad in 2006.  The family sold goods from the camera shop they owned to raise the $50,000 ransom the kidnappers demanded.  They paid the ransom but to no avail.  The kidnappers killed Aasimah's husband and Aasimah fled Baghdad with her four children to live in the safety of Beban, her family village.
Aasimah reported that she had already sold 4 kg. of honey for $50 a kg., although her five hives had been working for only three months.  Aasimah, like the 25 other displaced female heads of household participating in the ZSVP project, can expect to earn some $2,000 a year in the first years of the project and could earn much more as the bees swarm and populate new hives. (On our visit we met one man who had been the beneficiary of an earlier ZSVP beekeeping project.  He received five beehives in 2009.  He now maintains fifty hives and sells bees as well as honey to customers in the area.)
October 22nd, in London, the Women of the Year Lunch & Awards was held and one of the Barclays Women of the Year Award winners was "Iraqi-American women's rights activist, author and co-founder of Women for Women International Zainab Salbi."  (For more on the awards, click here and read about the Lifetime Achievement Award which went to internationally known singer, actress and activist Lulu.)  For more on Zainab Salbi, you can refer to Sarah Morrison's profile on her which ran in Sunday's Independent of London.  As well as WBAA's From Scratch (link is audio) today which found Jessica Harris interviewing Zainab. 
Still on the topic of Iraqi women, Tupperware is one of the few international companies that has been working to empower Iraqi women.  US Ambassador at Large for Global Women's Issues (US State Dept) Melanne Verveer was to have spoken at Rollins College Monday about empowering women and girls globally but the event was postponed.  The Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College has partnered with Tupperware and the Office of Global Women's Issues to create Global Links "a yearlong esternship designed to inspire a new generation of Iraqi women entrepreneurs and, in turn, help strengthen the country's struggling economy and rebuild its middle class."
Voices for Creative Nonviolence's Cathy Breen is in Iraq and she will be writing about this latest trip for The Progressive.  (Good for The Progressive for remembering Iraq.)  Her first report includes:
It is almost ten years since the U.S.-led war against Iraq. The electricity keeps going off here and all throughout the country. Sami, whose family is hosting me in Najaf, remarked yesterday with no ill intent, "Maybe we could send them some of our electricity!"  We had to laugh.
I read another email this morning from an Iraqi friend of Sami's whom we were unable to see in Basra. He spoke about the lack of electricity and the high humidity in Basra, where temperatures reached almost 50 degrees Centigrade last summer (about 120 degrees Fahrenheit), and this was during the fasting month of Ramadan when no water, or food, is taken from dawn to dusk. "How is it," this friend asks, "that the U.S. has poured billions of dollars into Iraq and yet there was no project for a [national] electrical power station to help cool temperatures and calm temperaments that went along with the political instability, the insecurity and the sectarian killings…?"

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