“Hidden victims of a brutal conflict: Iraq’s women”

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The Observer (via the U.K. Guardian Unlimited) reported yesterday:

…Iraqis do not like to talk about it much, but there is an understanding of what is going on these days. If a young woman is abducted and murdered without a ransom demand, she has been kidnapped to be raped. Even those raped and released are not necessarily safe: the response of some families to finding that a woman has been raped has been to kill her.

Iraq’s women are living with a fear that is increasing in line with the numbers dying violently every month. They die for being a member of the wrong sect and for helping their fellow women. They die for doing jobs that the militants have decreed that they cannot do: for working in hospitals and ministries and universities. They are murdered, too, because they are the softest targets for Iraq’s criminal gangs.

Iraq’s women live in terror of speaking their opinions; of going out to work; or defying the strict new prohibitions on dress and behaviour applied across Iraq by Islamist militants, both Sunni and Shia. They live in fear of their husbands, too, as women’s rights have been undermined by the country’s postwar constitution that has taken power from the family courts and given it to clerics.

‘Women are being targeted more and more,’ said Umm Salam last week. Her husband was a university professor who was executed in 1991 under Saddam Hussein after the Shia uprising. She survived by running her family farm. When the Americans arrived she got involved in civic action, teaching illiterate women how to read and vote, independent from the influence of their husbands. She helped them fill in forms for benefits and set up a sewing workshop.

In doing so she put herself at mortal risk. And since the assassination attempt, like many women in Najaf, she has found it hard to work. Which is what the men in the white Opel wanted. To silence the women like Umm Salam, who is 42.

‘It is very difficult for women here. There is a lot of pressure on our personal freedoms. None of us feels that we can have an opinion on anything any more. If she does, she risks being killed.’

It is a story familiar to women across Iraq, betrayed by the country’s new constitution that guaranteed them a 25 per cent share of membership of the Council of Representatives. That guarantee has turned instead into a fig leaf hiding what women activists now call a ‘human rights catastrophe for Iraqi women’.

After a month-long investigation, The Observer has established that in almost every major area of human rights, women are being seriously discriminated against, in some cases seeing their conditions return to those of females in the Middle Ages. In areas such as the Shia militia stronghold of Sadr City in east Baghdad, women have been beaten for not wearing socks. Even the headscarf and juba – the ankle-length, flared coat that buttons to the collar – are not enough for the zealots. Some women have been threatened with death unless they wear the full abbaya, the black, all-encompassing veil. …

Read the entire depressing and frightening report here. Via Philbiblon. There hasn’t been a new post from Riverbend at Baghdad Burning since early August, which is worrisome, although the Feminist Press at CUNY has recently issued a second volume of her posts in book form.

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