Iraqi Minister Nesreen Berwari Seeks Greater Role for Women
Iraqi Minister of Municipalities and Public Works Nesreen Berwari believes
that Iraqi women need a greater role in defining the future of Iraq politically,
socially and economically.
But while she welcomes the support of international organizations and women's
rights groups in helping Iraqi women to achieve their goals of participation,
she does not believe that it is adequate for Iraqi women to depend on the
assistance of others.
"We as people and especially as women -- I think it is more sustainable that we
depend on ourselves in trying to push our aspirations and demands clearly," she
said during a February 26 presentation at Washington's Woodrow Wilson Center for
As the top Iraqi official in charge of water treatment, waste management,
environmental sanitation and municipal facilities, Berwari is one of the most
important figures in the Iraqi civil administration.
Her ministry has also received some of the greatest funding in the
reconstruction efforts, given its central role in providing basic services to
She noted that, "For the first time in Iraq's history, it is the education,
water and health sectors that are getting the highest allocation in the Iraqi
She also mentioned that, "Since April 2003 the U.S. government has made
available more than $4 billion to address the problem [of unsafe drinking
According to Berwari, at least 50 percent of the Iraqi population still does not
have access to reliable, clean, safe water supplies.
Despite her prominence as a public official, however, she voiced her concern
that Iraqi women as a whole still do not have adequate opportunities to
participate in public life and pointed to the Iraqi Governing Council's
Resolution 137 as an example of what may lie ahead if women do not stand up for
Resolution 137 would have abolished Iraq's civilly administered personal status
law in favor of clerically administered Shari'a law. Many women's rights groups
maintain that this would leave women vulnerable to arbitrary legal decisions
based on varying readings of the religious law and deprive them of the right to
appeal to civil adjudication in important matters of marriage, divorce, child
custody and inheritance.
"Concerned citizens have made substantial progress initiating and developing
cohesiveness and in organizing to better defend their rights and protect
interests they deem vital to their future," she said. "This is particularly true
of rights and interests pertaining to women."
She went on to say, "More than 80 women's non-governmental organizations have
been organized and increasingly coordinated to protect the rights of women and
promote their interests. Numerous group activities have been undertaken and more
are being planned."
Nevertheless, she believes that protective guarantees need to be built into the
fundamental institutional texts that are currently taking form in order to
ensure that the country does not backtrack.
She said, "For Iraq to move forward faster it is essential for women to play
stronger contributing roles. Women need to have opportunities to more actively
participate in decision-making. In order for this to occur, an enabling
environment to promote women's participation needs to be enshrined within the
fundamental law of administration."
Specifically, she supported the adoption of quotas that would guarantee women at
least 40 percent representation in public administration and legislative bodies.
The final proposed text of the interim constitution, which emerged from
negotiations in the early hours of March 1, embraces more modest quotas of 25
percent representation for women in the interim assembly.
In response to a question about the absence of women on the committee drafting
the interim administrative law, Berwari said, "in all fairness the chairman of
the committee and in addition some of the members support pro-women issues."
She stated, "As Iraq moves forward, taking its rightful place among the family
of nations, we should do so on the basis of recognition, affirmation and
adherence to international human rights conventions as they pertain to women."
By David Shelby Washington File Staff Writer
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information
Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: