February 7, 2007–New York–This weekend in Baghdad, a brave group of young Sunni and Shiite artists and poets will come together to demand peace and resist the violent sectarianism consuming Iraq. MADRE, an international women's human rights organization, is working with our partner, the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, to support these artists and their participation in Art Action, an Iraqi youth peace project.
On Saturday, February 10, Art Action will host its next Freedom Space event, public performances where young people come together to share their poetry and music.Freedom Space performances take place in an extremely hostile environment. The gatherings have been banned by Islamists, whom the US boosted to power in Iraq early after the invasion in 2003. In fact, in Iraq today, Islamist militias systematically torture and kill artists and musicians. Several members of Art Action have been attacked. Despite the danger, Iraqis who hunger for peace flock to Freedom Spaceperformances, the only gatherings of their kind in Iraq today.
MADRE Communications Director, Yifat Susskind–author of a forthcoming report on violence against women in Iraq–commented that: "What we often hear in the news is that sectarian hatred has permeated every corner of peoples' lives in Iraq, including their closest relationships. Young people in Iraq are caught up in this maelstrom. But the young artists of Art Action refuse to succumb to sectarian hatred. Instead, with the support of OWFI and MADRE, they are joining together through art and poetry, calling for an end to the civil war, and working to create a society that promotes human rights–including women's rights and freedom from occupation and religious coercion."
Available for interviews on Art Action Freedom Space gatherings, sectarianism, violence against women, and US policy towards Iraq:
Yanar Mohammed is the Director and Founder of MADRE's sister organization, the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI). OWFI, which sponsors Art Action Freedom Space gatherings, has established five women's shelters in Iraq and an Underground Railroad for Iraqi Women to protect women from a sharp rise in gender-based violence since the US invasion. Ms. Mohammed has received death threats for her work to further women's human rights, but she continues to fight publicly against both the US occupation and Islamic fundamentalism. She has appeared frequently in the Iraqi and Arab press, and has been featured as a commentator in major international media, including The New York Times and CBS Evening News. Ms. Mohammed lives in Toronto and Baghdad.
Yifat Susskind, MADRE's Communications Director, was active in the Israeli women's peace movement for several years and directed a project at a joint Israeli-Palestinian human rights organization in Jerusalem before joining MADRE. She has written extensively on US foreign policy and women's human rights; her critical analysis has appeared in online and print publications such as TomPaine.com,Foreign Policy in Focus, and The W Effect: Bush's War on Women, published by the Feminist Press in 2004. Ms. Susskind has been featured as a commentator on CNN, National Public Radio, and BBC Radio. She is the author of a report on US culpability for violence against women in Iraq, which will be published in early March.