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 January 25, 2004

SC Region - Hilary F. White

Diwaniyah - Richard Nielsen


Diwaniyah, Iraq. The Diwaniyah Women's Rights Center sponsored a democracy class this past Saturday, January 24. The session included basic concepts of a democracy and participation in a democratic government. Men and women from around the Diwaniyah area attended.

Dr. Maha Al-Sagban, a Women's Rights Center board member, explained:

"They want democracy now, but it takes a long process…They are now allowed to take part in life. Because of the previous regime, they didn't speak, but that is changing…First, we have to rebuild a woman's self-confidence and return their lost pride…I think democracy is progressing. It is going nicely…already democracy is being implemented."

The purpose of the Center is to assist widowed, impoverished, and vulnerable women as they improve their lives and those of their children. The Center will help enable the women to participate in a free, democratic Iraq. As an Iraqi woman recently explained:

"We want to know about democracy and women's rights, but unfortunately until now we didn't know how to deal with these issues."

To celebrate the Center's opening on January 9, 2004, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, U.S. National Security Advisor, sent taped remarks translated into Arabic. In her message, Dr. Rice congratulated the women:

"I would like to congratulate you on the opening of the Women’s Rights Center. A new day continues for Iraqi women of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. You are free – free to play an integral part in society."

During the former regime, Iraqi women would never have dreamed of meeting to discuss their rights as individuals. Because so many husbands, fathers, and sons were killed by wars and the former regime, women represent more than 60% of the population. The Diwaniyah Women’s Rights Center provides an opportunity for women to claim back their freedoms and focus on their futures as leaders and valuable participants in the reconstruction of a free Iraq.

Recently, the Diwaniyah Human Rights Center initiated and organized its own democracy training. More than 100 men and women attended the discussion on human rights, democracy, and constitutions. Participants explained:

"We cannot separate good governance from the respect of basic human rights."
"No one should be allowed to speak on behalf of the people of Iraq unless chosen by the people."
"We really need to know more about democracy. Democracy covers all aspects of life."

The Diwaniyah Human Rights Center officially opened on December 20, 2003. The Center supports human rights initiatives, as well as democracy and elections training.

The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) worked with men and women from across Diwaniyah to establish these Centers. In the coming weeks, more Centers will open throughout South Central Iraq.

Learning about freedom and responsibility in a democratic society are essential as Iraqis move toward a sovereign government. The Diwaniyah Women’s Rights Center and the Diwaniyah Human Rights Center represent another important step forward for all Iraqi people. CPA will continue to help Iraqis as they work to participate in a free, democratic Iraq.



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