Women were far better off under former Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein, a women’s group has found after an extensive survey in Iraq.
“Under the previous dictator regime, the basic rights for women were enshrined in the constitution,” Houzan Mahmoud from the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq told IPS in an interview. The group is a sister organization of MADRE, an international women’s rights group.
Under Saddam, she said, “women could go out to work, university, and get married or divorced in civil courts. But at the moment women have lost almost all their rights and are being pushed back into the corner of their house.”
The recent constitution, which was written under the U.S. government’s supervision, is “very backward and anti-women,” Mahmoud said. “They make Islam the source for lawmaking, and the main official religion of the country. This in itself means Islamic Sharia law, and according to this, women will be considered second-class citizens and will have no power in deciding over their lives.”
The whole of Iraqi society has been subjected to “chaos and brutalization,” she said. “Security is absent, all basic services, and above all the protection for women’s rights is in no way on the agenda of any of the political parties who have been hand-picked by the U.S. administration in the installed so-called parliament.”
MADRE is calling for the deployment of a United Nations-led peacekeeping force and an immediate end to the U.S. occupation. As the crisis in Iraq intensifies, the group says women and their families in Iraq face an urgent need for security, functional government, and the provision of basic services within a human rights framework.
Over three years of occupation, the situation is becoming more dangerous and bleak with the presence of the occupying forces, and “the more violence and terrorism is in function in Iraq, the more women will fall victims of such climate,” she said.
“The rape, abduction, abuse in prisons by prison guards, and killing of women is widespread,” she said. “The lack of security and proper protection for women is a major issue and no one, neither the occupying forces nor the local police of the puppet regime, is doing anything about it.”
But the position of women does vary within Iraq, she said. “In the Kurdish part, the situation of women is slightly better because Iraqi Kurdistan was out of the hands of the Ba’ath regime from 1991, so it was not part of the U.S. military attacks in 2003. But the attitude toward women is not progressive there.”
Beyond any dangers from the political situation, “a lot of so-called honor killings are still taking place, and the Kurdish authorities are not doing much to prevent it from happening.”
But the south is directly under daily military occupation, “and the presence of various Islamic armed militias who are terrorizing women has made their situation worse,” Mahmoud said. “Also, the so-called parliament is divided on the bases of religious sects and ethnic backgrounds, so the majority of Shi’ites who are in power are institutionalizing women’s oppression and are systematically forcing Islamification on Iraq.”
Women are 60 percent of the population of Iraq, but they are not being consulted on any political issues and are being deprived of this right, she said.
The presence of a few women should not mislead people on the situation of women, she said. “The U.S. administration has handpicked a few women and imposed them on people in the so-called parliament,” she said. “These women are very unknown to Iraqi women. Most of them belong to the reactionary, right-wing parties in power and they follow their agenda, which is discriminatory against women.”
Women would first like to see “an end to the military occupation which has created chaos and destruction of Iraqi society and also resulted in the daily mass killing of ordinary Iraqis.”
Women particularly would “want to see security restored so at least they can go out freely without being attacked, kidnapped, or having acid thrown on their face,” Mahmoud said. “In addition, women want equality, freedom, and their rights to be recognized in the constitution, and above all to be treated as equal human beings.”