Constitution Marks New Start for Iraqi Women,
The signing of an Iraqi interim constitution March 8 marks the beginning of a
new role for women in the country, according to the only woman member of Iraq's
Nasreen Barwari, speaking the same day at a panel discussion, titled "The Role
of Women In The Emerging Government and Society of Iraq," honoring International
Women's Day in Washington, said the constitution guarantees a "more inclusive
system" for women. Iraqi women's task now is to network with each other in order
to build strength needed to achieve and sustain equality in national and local
decision-making, she said.
Women already have influenced decisions related to the Iraqi Governing Council's
Resolution 137, which would have moved family and personal law matters from
civil administration to clerical administration under Sharia law, Barwari said.
This resolution was retracted under tremendous pressure from women's groups.
The retraction was "a great achievement for Iraqi society," she said.
Women also pressed for inclusion in the constitution of a provision calling for
a target of 25 percent representation for women in a forthcoming Transitional
The panelists, Robin Raphel, coordinator for Iraq reconstruction, U.S.
Department of State, the current Minister for Municipalities and Public Works
for Iraq Nasreen Barwari, Anita Sharma, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center's
Conflict Prevention Project, Judith Kipper, director of Middle East Forum for
the Council on Foreign Relations, Johanna Mendelson-Forman, senior program
officer for Peace, Security & Human Rights of the United Nations Foundation, and
journalist Asla Aydintasbas of Sabah Newspaper discussed new decision-making
positions for Iraqi women who represent 55 percent of the population in the
Since the agreement in November between Iraq's Governing Council (IGC) and the
Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) of a plan to transition the governing of
Iraq to Iraqis, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been holding
"discussion groups" with women around the country to generate interest in the
democratic process and inform women of the importance of registering to vote,
the minister for municipalities and public works said. Barwari explained that 80
women's groups currently exist in Baghdad and offer a new method of dialogue and
empowerment for Iraqi women. Although the Iraqi constitution entitled full
rights to women in 1970, more than 4,000 women have been murdered in honor
killings under the rule of Saddam Hussein.
According to Raphel, after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003, Iraqi
women were the first demonstrators, seeking equal rights, witnessed by the CPA,
which has assisted Iraqi women in reinstating grassroots efforts and enabling
free discussions about their participation in a representative self-government.
Recounting women's previous progress in being involved in their country's
development, Raphel said that prior to the Baathist regime, Iraqi women "were at
the vanguard" of women in Islam. She noted that the first women's organization
in Iraq was formed in 1924.
Raphel attended the first Baghdad Iraq women's conference, sponsored by the CPA.
The CPA, coordinating humanitarian assistance and reconstructing damaged
infrastructure in post-Saddam Iraq, allocated $6.5 million to women's groups for
business and professional development. For example, the Mansour Women's Center,
the first of nine women's centers to open in Baghdad, was made possible through
a grant from the CPA, the U.S. Agency for International Development and
implemented by Women for Women International.
In outreach to Iraqi women, the United States has been helping to organize
women's conferences throughout the country with more being planned, said Raphel
at the Women's Day event. The United States also is sponsoring training programs
for women, including women journalists and women in security positions,
facilitating visits to the United States by women leaders and scholars, and
allocating grants to women's NGOs and business-support organizations. Barwari
said NGOs, working with international support, also are hoping to get women
interested in becoming candidates for national and local government positions.
"Iraqi women are very capable of serving in decision-making positions," Barwari
said. "They know they must have a role."
The United States also has allocated $500 million in 2004 for civil society
development projects in Iraq. Over 100 Iraqi women have been trained as police
officers in order to address the concern of security. It is a priority to
provide a secure environment for women to access the voting polls in Iraq and
Afghanistan. According to Sharma, only 2 percent of the female population is
registered to participate in the election process in Afghanistan because human
security remains a major issue.
Referencing a recently discovered Iraqi mass grave of 15,000 casualties, a
legacy of the Saddam Hussein regime, Aydintasbas, a regular contributor to CNN
and The Wall Street Journal, remarked, "When you don't have human rights, you
don't have women's rights."
Addressing women's rights as human rights, Secretary of State Colin Powell
announced on March 9 the $10 million Women's Democracy Initiative for Iraq that
will provide training in leadership skills and organizing political activities
and other civil actions. In addition, the U.S.-Iraq Women's Network, modeled
after the pioneering work of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, will create
public-private partnerships, empowering Iraqi women in political and economic
arenas. Kipper remarked on these historic opportunities, "Iraqi women in this
transition are going to be pioneers not only in their country, but in the
Sharma, citing proposals to the Iraqi Governing Council that seek to abolish
laws that impede the employment of women and impose traveling regulations on
women, said, "It would be a pity if we liberated Iraq, only to imprison its
Iraqi women's involvement in decisions regarding the future of their country
will be an important tool for the country in "moving beyond war to stability,"
said Johanna Mendelson-Forman, senior program officer at the United Nations
Foundation, speaking at the same event. Mendelson-Forman identified three
current deficits in Iraq: freedom, women's empowerment, and the lack of new
knowledge creation. She emphasized that the U.N. Development Fund for Women
recently opened an office in Iraq to better serve Iraqi women, who have a 52
percent illiteracy rate. Mendelson-Forman remarked that the failure to expand
education "will forever condemn the political process in Iraq."
"Study after study has taught us that there is no tool for development more
effective than the education of girls and the empowerment of women," U.N.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan said. "When women are fully involved, the benefits
can be seen immediately: families are healthier; they are better fed; their
income, savings and reinvestment go up. And what is true of families is true of
communities and, eventually, whole countries."
The sponsor of the panel discussion, titled "The Role of Women In The Emerging
Government and Society of Iraq," included The United Nations Information Centre
and the following co-sponsors; the United Nations Foundation, United Nations
Development Program, the United Nations Population Fund, USA for UNHCR, Vital
Voices, World Food Programme, Women Waging Peace, International Labor
Organization, International Fund for Agriculture Development, General Federation
of Women's Clubs, Women's Foreign Policy Group, United Nations Association (UNA-NCA),
League of Women Voters, U.S. Committee for UNIFEM, the Woodrow Wilson
International Center on Conflict Prevention, and Amnesty International USA.
By Darlisa Y. Crawford and Kathryn McConnell
Washington File Staff Writer
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information
Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: