Women’s Rights in Basra Still Dismal


I take it today’s the day when everyone’s supposed to be upbeat about Iraq, seeing as how Zarqawi was killed, and Iraqis across the country are, rightfully, ecstatic about the fact. Nevertheless, Terri Judd’s report in the Independent on the state of women’s rights deserves a reading:

Across Iraq, a bloody and relentless oppression of women has taken hold. Many women had their heads shaved for refusing to wear a scarf or have been stoned in the street for wearing make-up. Others have been kidnapped and murdered for crimes that are being labelled simply as “inappropriate behaviour”. The insurrection against the fragile and barely functioning state has left the country prey to extremists whose notion of freedom does not extend to women.

In the British-occupied south, where Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army retains a stranglehold, women insist the situation is at its worst. Here they are forced to live behind closed doors only to emerge, concealed behind scarves, hidden behind husbands and fathers. Even wearing a pair of trousers is considered an act of defiance, punishable by death.

Perhaps it’s too obvious to need pointing out, but as a reminder, this is what’s going on in Basra, the peaceful part of Iraq, where Shiites have—for the most part—set up a stable Islamic government in the provinces and insurgent violence, while not eradicated, is at a minimum. In other words, this is what “victory” in Iraq would look like. According to Judd’s interviews, people in Basra say that laws setting aside 25 percent of the legislative seats for women have been a “smokescreen,” and it’s been impossible for those in power to do much to improve women’s rights in the region.

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