Term Paper: Women's Issues

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Iraqi Women

Regardless if one is for or against the War in Iraq, the hope is that the lives of the Iraqi people are improved and some form of democratic nation is built that provides for equal rights. The previous situation of Muslim women in Iraq was restrictive at best. What has been the impact over the last five years? It appears by the research noted below, that women's rights may not be high on the political agenda and women still have to accomplish a great deal before they can have an equal voice..

Iraqi women, even the most conservative, are beginning to reconcile the tenets of religious laws with the desire to be part of a new political and economic government. Zainab Salbi, who runs women's centers across Iraq through her U.S.-based nonprofit organization Women for Women International, states that even a group of Shiite women sought funding in their hometown of Karbala for a women's center with both a prayer space alongside a room for computer terminals and English lessons for women (Hunt, Posa, 2004).

Yet in a 2004 report by Hunt and Posa in Foreign Policy, the authors note that despite the fact that President George W. Bush's administration points to the advancement of women as a "centerpiece" of its Iraq strategy, "good intentions have seemingly substituted coherent policy." The U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), received millions of dollars from the administration for women's professional training in order for them to be represented in the new government. However, after President Bush ended major combat operations in May of 2003, the CPA began using Iraqi women as a bargaining chip in political negotiations with religious factions. By failing to include a representative number of women in Iraq's government, the U.S. sent a message to other countries in the region that "women's political engagement is not, in fact, the pillar of democracy the West portrays."

In this 2004 report, it is noted that prior to the 2003 invasion, the U.S. created a government-in-waiting led by an exile group with only three women appointed to the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council; Minister of Public Works Nesreen Berwari was the only female named for the Cabinet of Ministers. At that time, although over 80 women served on city, district, and neighborhood councils in Baghdad, far fewer served in the 18 Iraqi provinces, and none had been appointed a provincial governor. Further, no women were appointed to the 24-member constitutional drafting committee, which produced the document that served as the interim constitution.

In order for Iraq to grow and prosper, it will need entrepreneurs to advance the economy (Looney, 2005). A large proportion of those involved in today's informal economy, as in past years, are women and children, a result of their impoverishment and ongoing exclusion from the formal economy. However, on the whole, the educational background of women continues to hinder them in their business efforts. All women face the challenges of Ba'athist ties during the previous regime and the power of a number of religious groups against them for pursuing activities outside the household and areas where they would like to pursue a career. Many older women who are educated are finding that their knowledge base significantly deteriorated during the period of sanctions and they need additional training before resuming work in their desired employment area. Younger women may also need basic education before they can expect to achieve higher levels in the economic structure.

It does not appear that the situation for women is changing very rapidly. Article 14 of Iraq's constitution, which was approved in a nationwide referendum, hedges about the state of women, as well. It states that Iraqis are equal before the law "without discrimination because of sex." Yet it also stipulates that no law can be passed that contradicts the "established rulings" of Islam. Since this is a catch-22 for women, the new document was condemned by critics both inside and outside Iraq as a fundamental setback for women, who make up a majority of Iraq's population.

To the contrary, Coleman (2006) argued that "The centrality of Islamic law in the document does not necessarily mean trouble for Iraqi women. In fact, sharia is open to a wide range of understanding, and across the Islamic world today..." She sites examples of how progressive Muslims are looking for ways to reconcile the rules in order to accommodate the women's role in the new Iraq. The constitution does not specify who is to determine which version of Islam will prevail in the country's new legal system.

Kandiyoti (2007) similarly compared the situation in Iraq with other Middle Eastern countries and found that gender issues become politicized in new and unproductive ways in situations where armed interventions usher in new blueprints for governance and 'democratization'. Relying on analyses from constitutional and electoral processes in Afghanistan and Iraq, Kandiyoti's studied how the nature of emerging political settlements in environments of high risk and insecurity may jeopardize stated international promises to a women's rights agenda. The distinction between stated aims and observed outcomes becomes particularly acute in contexts where security and the rule of law are significantly compromised, where Islam becomes a stake in power struggles among contending factions and ethnic/sectarian constituencies are involved in struggles of representation in defense of their collective rights.

In the meantime, a study by Freedom House, "Discrimination and Intolerance in Iran's Textbooks," examined about 95 different school textbooks that are mandatory for first- through eleventh-grade students in Iran. Freedom House is an independent non-governmental organization that supports worldwide freedom, with democratic political systems where the governments are accountable to their own people; the rule of law prevails; and freedoms of expression, association, belief, and respect for the rights of minorities and women are guaranteed. Freedom ultimately depends on the actions of committed and courageous men and women.

Authored by Paris-8 University sociologist Saeed Paivandi, it is the most comprehensive look to date at the books being used in Iranian schools. "The discourse of the textbooks has not been written with the concept of equality of all human beings, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," the study concludes. "In the textbooks' reasoning, human beings cannot be equal with one another on this earth, in the same way that, on the day of reckoning, they will be subject to divine judgment for their identity and actions." Based on the analysis of the Iranian textbooks, Paivandi concludes that different people have different places in society; those who are not high on the status ladder will be victimized by prejudice.

For the long-term, education may be the best way to advance the status of women. Although reliable literacy figures are difficult to obtain, most observers agree that Iraq has one of the worst gender literacy gaps in the world. As it has been seen with Iran, with its female literacy rate of more than 70%, educated women undoubtedly become effective advocates for their own rights. America should therefore strongly support female education in Iraq at all levels, primary and up, as well as adult-literacy programs the U.S. should also start moving a large portion of its reconstruction dollars to Iraqi businesswomen. Economic empowerment is a productive way to increase their status Despite the tremendous amounts of American aid that has flowed into Iraq, the U.S. mission in Baghdad has so far fought having an adviser on gender issues in Iraq -- where programs to support women are actually implemented. As a result, its many gender initiatives have not been nearly as effective as they could have been.

Finally a report in 2007 on that most recent status of women (Al Ali), states that the international community, including the U.S. And UK governments, have increasingly backed "gender mainstreaming" in post-conflict reconstruction and peace-building as stated in UN… [END OF PREVIEW]

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