After Six Years, Some US troops Will Leave Iraq. But Where Are We Leaving Iraqi Women?
Posted on: Monday, March 16, 2009
If you haven’t thought about the Iraq War as a story of US allies systematically torturing and executing women, you’re not alone. Likewise, if you were under the impression that Iraqi women were somehow better off under their new, US-sponsored government.
In the spring of 2003, Fatin was a student of architecture at Baghdad University. Her days were filled with classes and hanging out in her favorite of Baghdad’s many cafes, where she and her friends studied, shared music, and spun big plans for successful careers, happy marriages, and eventually, kids.
Today, Fatin says that those feel like someone else’s dreams.
Soon after the US invasion, Fatin began seeing groups of bearded young Iraqi men patrolling the streets of Baghdad. They were looking for women like her, who wore modern clothes or were heading to professional jobs. The men screamed terrible insults at the women and sometimes beat them.
By the fall, ordinary aspects of Fatin’s life had become punishable by death. The “misery gangs,” as Fatin calls them, were routinely killing women for wearing pants, appearing in public without a headscarf, or shaking hands and socializing with men.
As the occupying power, the US was legally obligated to stop these attacks. But the Pentagon, preoccupied with battling the Iraqi insurgency, simply ignored the militias’ reign of terror.
In fact, some of the most treacherous armed groups belonged to the very political parties that the US had brought to power. By 2005, the Pentagon was giving weapons, money and military training to these Shiite militias, in the hope that they would help combat the Sunni-led insurgency.
Fatin’s closest encounter with the militias occurred when armed men burst into her university classroom one morning, threatening to kill any female student without a head scarf. After that, young women dropped out in droves. The next semester, Fatin’s parents refused to allow her to re-enroll.
While the Pentagon was arming militias bent on brutally ousting Iraqi women from public life, the US State Department was busy brokering the new Iraqi Constitution. Hailed as “progressive” and “democratic” in Washington, the new Constitution designates religious law, which discriminates against women, as the basis of all legislation. It also restricts women’s rights by upending one of the most progressive family status laws in the Middle East—a law that Iraqi women fought for and won in 1959, before Saddam Hussein took power.
For Fatin, the bitter irony is that her new Constitution, courtesy of the USA, destroyed women’s rights that were once guaranteed in Iraq, even under the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein.
Fatin has now been out of school and unemployed for more than three years. Her mother, a pharmacist, and her aunt, trained as a veterinarian, have also been unemployed for years now and are too afraid to try to find work.
Here in the US, we’ve rarely heard the story of the Iraq War told from the perspective of women. So what are Iraqi women saying on the sixth anniversary of the US invasion? The same thing they’ve been saying since 2003: end the occupation. Polls consistently show that a majority of Iraqis want US troops out.
We’ve been told that if the US withdraws, violence would again soar in Iraq. That’s a compelling argument for those of us who care about the suffering that the US has already visited on Iraqi women and their families. But Iraqis themselves, who have the best grasp of their security situation, say that US troops are causing, not confronting, violence. In multiple polls, most Iraqis say they would feel much safer without US troops.
Who can blame them? Since the invasion, over a million Iraqis have died violently and four million have been driven from their homes. The resources that women need to care for their families—electricity, water, food, fuel, and medical care—have become dangerously scarce, sometimes totally unavailable.
This week marks six years since the US invaded Iraq. In that time, women have not only faced with mounting violence—they have also organized a movement to confront US occupation and violence against women.
Looking for a way to speak out against the repression she witnessed, Fatin joined the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI). In partnership with MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization based in New York, OWFI has worked to promote women’s human rights, creating a network of women’s shelters to protect women fleeing violence.
The women of Iraq are creating the foundation on which a peaceful and just future will be built. It’s time we started listening to them.
By Yifat Susskind, MADRE Communications Director. This op-ed was distributed by the National Women's Editorial Forum.
Archives"Press Room" Home March 2014 February 2014 January 2014 December 2013 November 2013 October 2013 September 2013 August 2013 July 2013 June 2013 May 2013 April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 June 2012 May 2012 April 2012 March 2012 February 2012 January 2012 December 2011 November 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 July 2011 June 2011 May 2011 April 2011 March 2011 February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 February 2009 January 2009 December 2008 November 2008 October 2008 September 2008 August 2008 July 2008 June 2008 May 2008 April 2008 March 2008 February 2008 January 2008 December 2007 November 2007 October 2007 September 2007 August 2007 June 2007 May 2007 April 2007 March 2007 February 2007 January 2007 December 2006 November 2006 October 2006 September 2006 July 2006 June 2006 April 2006 March 2006 January 2006 December 2005 November 2005 September 2005 August 2005 July 2005 April 2005 March 2005 November 2004 October 2004 April 2004 March 2004 January 2004 December 2003 October 2003 September 2003 June 2003 April 2003 January 2003 September 2002 June 2002 January 2002 November 2001 October 2001 September 2001 August 2001 January 2001
Kat Noel, Website & Media Coordinator
PHONE: +1 212 627 0444
MADRE & Our Partners Make News
Haiti: the neoliberal model imposed on the country is failing its citizens (The Guardian, February 5, 2014)
Human rights group slams Iraq over treatment of women in prison (Miami Herald, February 2, 2014)
New Ways to Evaluate Impact (Stanford Social Innovation Review, January 24, 2014)
Poverty, Homelessness and Gender Violence Remains High Four Years After Earthquake (Uprising Radio , January 17, 2014)
Empowering Haiti's rape survivors (CNN, January 14, 2014)