Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily / InterPress Service – 2006-12-13 23:37:22
Iraq: Abduction of Women on the Rise
Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily / InterPress Service
BAGHDAD, Dec. 11 (IPS) — Women face increased risk of abduction by militias and criminal gangs as lawlessness takes over the country.
Nobody is safe. Taysseer Al-Mashadani, the Sunni woman minister from the al-Tawafuq political party was abducted by members of the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi army militia July 1 this year. After being held for nearly three months, she was only released after much pressure was applied from both the US and Iraqi governments.
Thousands of other women have not been so lucky. Many have been executed, assaulted, or released only after their families paid considerable ransom money.
Few women like to talk about what they have to go through. “I was taken by Americans for three days recently,” Um Ahmed told IPS in Baghdad. “They told me they would rape me if I didn’t tell them where my husband was, but I really didn’t know.”
She said that she was turned over to the Iraqi National Guard “who were even worse than the Americans.”
Her husband eventually surrendered to the US military, but she continued to be held “to apply pressure on him to confess things he never did,” she said. “They told him they would rape me right in front of him if he did not confess he was a terrorist. They forced me to watch them beat him hard until he told them what they wanted to hear.”
The Organisation for Women’s Freedom in Iraq has estimated from anecdotal evidence that over 2,000 Iraqi women have gone missing in the period from the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 until spring 2006.
But numbers are not always reliable here. Thousands of cases of abduction of women are never reported for fear of public disgrace.
According to a study published by the Washington-based Brookings Institute Dec. 4, between 30 to 40 Iraqis were being kidnapped every day as of March this year. “The numbers on this table may be lower than the actual number of kidnappings as the Iraqi Police suggest wide underreporting,” the study noted.
These estimated numbers have drastically increased from a reported rate of two kidnappings a day in Baghdad in January 2004, and are up from the 10 a day reported in the capital city in December 2004 according to this study.
Untold numbers of women, believed by many to be in the thousands, have been abducted for money, and others have been abducted for sectarian reasons. “My family had to pay 30,000 dollars to have me released,” a 25year-old woman told IPS, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Several abducted women have later been found dead, sometimes beheaded. Others are never seen again.
Fifty-two-year-old Um Wasseem from Baghdad was abducted by US forces and held at the Baghdad airport detention camp, her family said. She was eventually released after political pressure from family and friends who had some political muscle.
“I wish she had not been released,” her 20-year-old son told IPS. “Militias then abducted her, and we found her body torn to pieces in March this year.”
Many Iraqi academics and aid workers say most of those being kidnapped now are women.
“Women in Iraq used go to work, participate in social activities and even take part in politics,” sociologist Shatha al-Dulaimy told IPS in Baghdad. “Iraqi women studied and worked side by side with men, and they formed at least 35 percent of the national working power in various fields of work until the US occupation came. The occupation has brought nothing but suffering, death or kidnapping to women here now.”
The US administration promised Iraqi women a better life with new opportunities, but the reality after three-and-a-half years of occupation is far different. Iraqi women were promised 25 percent of the seats in parliament. As it turned, out, the Iraqi National Assembly has 85 women in a total of 275 members following elections held Dec. 15, 2005. But that has not translated into more rights for women across Iraq.
“We are just a part of the décor arranged by Americans who wanted to convince the world of the ‘tremendous’ change in Iraq,” a female member of the Iraqi parliament told IPS on condition of anonymity. “Our (women’s) voice is never heard inside or outside parliament.”
Female members of the new Iraqi Parliament take little part in major political decisions or when it comes to forming committees. Many female members were elected for religious or tribal reasons, she said.
The MP expressed concern over a rise in “religious extremism” because people are being “led by clerics who spent their lives learning how to make women obey their orders and present them with the best services at home.” Such extremism has been a large factor in the rising number of women being kidnapped, she said.
“What women’s rights,” said 38-year-old schoolteacher Assmaa Fadhil. “Those who talk about it are ignorant people who want women to be slaves and concubines rather than partners in life. They are using old traditions to crush women and keep them away from any real participation in society.”
Fadhil says lack of respect for women’s rights has increased the threat of women getting abducted simply as they step out of their homes.
“Most of us now stay at home unless we absolutely must go out for food,” Fadhil said. “Because we know so many women who have been kidnapped, it is only a matter of time for us if we continue traveling around the city.”
Denial of rights for women in the name of Islam is not what Islam is all about, Sheikh Ahmed of the Sunni religious group, the Association of Muslim Scholars, told IPS. “Muslim women are granted full rights of work and social participation. It is tradition that limits women’s activity nowadays, rather than religion.”
Most Iraqi women are fearful about their future as long as the country is led by Islamists.
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It’s Hard Being A Woman
Dahr Jamail & Ali Al-Fadhily / Inter Press Service
BAGHDAD (December 7, 2006) — Once one of the best countries for women’s rights in the Middle East, Iraq has now become a place where women fear for their lives in an increasingly fundamentalist environment.
Prior to the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, Iraqi women enjoyed rights under the Personal Status Law since Jul. 14, 1958, the day Iraqis overthrew the British-installed monarchy.
Under this law they were able to settle civil suits in courts, unfettered by religious influences. Iraqi women had many of the rights enjoyed by women in western countries.
The end of monarchy brought a regime in which women began to work as professors, doctors and other professionals. They took government and ministerial positions and enjoyed growing rights even through the dictatorial reign of Saddam Hussein and his Ba’ath Party.
“Our rights had been hard to obtain in a country with a tradition of firm male control,” Dr. Iman Robeii, professor of psychology from Fallujah told IPS in Baghdad. Iraqi women have traditionally done all the housework, and assisted children with school work, she said. On top of that about 30 percent of women had been engaged in social activities.
“But a tragic collapse took place after the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the so-called Islamists seized power to place new obstacles in the way of women’s march towards improvement,” she said.
A significant event was the Dec. 29, 2003 decision by the U.S.-installed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) to pass a bill which almost cancelled the Personal Status Law, 45 years after it had been passed.
Under Resolution 137 Iraqi women would rely on religious institutions for personal matters such as marriage and divorce, as opposed to recourse to civilian courts that they could access before the invasion.
Women across Iraq saw the IGC move as one of the first hazardous steps towards implementation of a fundamentalist Islamic law. The bill did not pass, but the slide into Sharia (Islamic law) had already taken root through much of Shia-dominated southern Iraq and also some Sunni-dominated areas of central Iraq.
Resolution 137 was defeated in March 2004. A new Iraqi constitution has been introduced, but the adoption of the constitution has not helped protect women’s rights.
Yanar Mohammed, one of Iraq’s staunchest women’s rights advocates, believes the constitution neither protects women nor ensures their basic rights. She blames the United States for abdicating its responsibility to help develop a pluralistic democracy in Iraq.
“The U.S. occupation has decided to let go of women’s rights,” Mohammed told reporters. “Political Islamic groups have taken southern Iraq, are fully in power there, and are using the financial support of Iran to recruit troops and allies. The financial and political support from Iran is why the Iraqis in the south accept this, not because the Iraqi people want Islamic law.”
Mohammed believes the drafting of the Iraqi constitution was “not for the interest of the Iraqi people” and instead was based on concessions to ethnic and sectarian groups.
“The Kurds want Kirkuk (an oil-rich city they consider the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan), and the Shias want the Islamic Republic of Iraq, just like Iran’s,” she said. “The genie is out of the bottle in terms of political Islam (by Shias) and the resistance (by Sunnis). America will tolerate any conclusion so they can leave, even if it means destroying women’s rights and civil liberties.They have left us a regime like the Taliban.”
A woman judge told IPS that she and her female colleagues could not go to work any more because the current system does not allow for a female judge.
Iraqi NGO activists have also criticised the new constitution for depriving women of leadership posts in the country. “The constitution mentions some rights for women, but those in power laugh when they are asked to put it to practice,” she said. Like the woman judge, she too did not want to be named.
The key element in the Iraqi constitution that is dangerous for women’s rights is Article 2 which states “Islam is the official religion of the state and is a basic source of legislation.” Subheading A under Article 2 states that “No law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed rules of Islam.”
Under Article 2 the interpretation of women’s rights is left to religious leaders, and it provides for implementation of Sharia law which can turn the clock back on women’s rights in Iraq.
The social environment in Iraq has become acutely difficult for women already. Many women now fear leaving their homes.
“I try to avoid leaving my home, and when I do, I always cover my face,” Suthir Ayad told IPS at her house in Baghdad. “Several of my friends have been threatened or beaten by these Shia militias who insist we stay home and never show our faces.”
In southern Iraq, the situation seems even worse.
“My cousin in Basra was beaten savagely by some of the Mehdi Army (the militia of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr) because she tried to attend university,” said a woman who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Now she never leaves her home unless fully covered, and then only to shop for food.”
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.