Did Condoleezza Rice
Remember
Iraqi Women on
International Women’s Day?

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By Kathlyn Stone, WAMM

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With additional reporting
by Kristina Gronquist, WAMM
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International Women’s Day, March 8, could be an annual day of celebration over the economic, political, and social advancements of women worldwide, and not just a press op for the Bush administration.

Condoleezza Rice on March 10 declared, “International Women’s Day reminds us of the critical role women play in addressing the economic, political, and human security challenges our world faces. The enfranchisement of women, supported at all levels, is essential to meeting our global prosperity. As history unfolds, nations are increasingly judged by whether they afford women equal opportunity. It is undeniable that the advancement of countries is inhibited when women are excluded, and it is unacceptable that women continue to be deprived of the opportunity to reach their full potential.”

Rice’s statement defies the reality of the situation, as many of us mourn what our government has done to the women of Iraq.

The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq have brought an alarming increase in violence against women, including “honor killings” by religious fundamentalists. Women who do not subordinate their role to that of male family members have no value among the fundamentalists.

The Iraq Freedom Congress (IFC), a grassroots political movement headquartered in Baghdad, issued a statement congratulating women worldwide on International Women’s Day and asked that people everywhere stand with the women of Iraq as they face oppression from sectarian gangs.

Hundreds of Iraqi women have been murdered by religious gangs and unveiled women are routinely targeted and threatened with violence if they don’t wear hijabs and follow strict Islamic law. The government has not moved to stop the violence or the threats, according to the Iraq Freedom Congress. The Iraq Freedom Congress “stands at the forefront of the struggle to expel these bandits from Iraq,” said Amjad Al-Jawhary, an IFC spokesperson.

The international protests against sexual discrimination are growing louder every year, says Al-Jawhary, and yet in Iraq “the discrimination against women by sectarian militias linked to mullahs in Iran and groups of Al Qaeda has reached the level of sexual genocide, particularly in the cities of Basra, Baghdad, Mosul and Diyala. These groups have committed the most heinous crimes against humanity, and women in particular.”

The U.S. military occupation has “turned a blind eye” to the work of the religious gangs, said Al-Jawhary. He suggests that both the occupation forces and the present government have surrendered Iraq and future generations to the criminals through their failure to rein in the gangs.

“We must put an end to the killing of women,” said Fryal Akbar, head of the IFC’s Women’s Bureau at a press conference in Baghdad held earlier this year to draw attention to the escalation of violence against women.

“Women today have every right to defend themselves against the religious and sectarian gangs by all means.” She also warned that the IFC will not stand by watching crimes being committed without consequences. “From our experience, these gangs will not put an end to their crimes unless serious action is taken.”

One year ago, Yifat Susskind of MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization headquartered in New York, wrote: “Since the United States invaded, Iraqi wmen have endured a wave of death threats, assassinations, abductions, public beatings, targeted sexual assaults, and public hangings.

“Both Sunni and Shiite Islamist militias direct much of this violence. These groups mushroomed across Iraq after the United States toppled the secular Baath regime. Ironically, the Shiite militias are the armed wings of the political parties that the U.S. boosted into power. Their aim is to establish an Islamist theocracy and their social vision requires the subjugation of women.”

Suhad Salim, another member of the IFC’s Women’s Bureau, described a young woman’s sense of hopelessness: “The deterioration of the security situation, the intervention of the political Islamic groups into everyone’s personal life and the enforcement of the Islamic law on the street has forced women to quit both school and work to stay home seeking safety. These conditions create desperation and hopelessness in life leading many women to buy shrouds and wait for their death.

“I asked Sawsan Ali of Althawra city who is 30 years old why she quit school and stays home. She has lost her ambition and tends to think about death. Sawsan answered: ‘There’s no hope for safety in the foreseeable future, my rights as a woman do not exist. Everything is against me as a human: family, traditions and culture. Killing and terrorizing women have become a daily show. Why should I live? I cannot go to school safely or voice my opinion. Whatever I do is opposed by others. Basically nothing is left to live for, therefore I am preparing for death.’”

As the famous feminist and prolific writer Robin Morgan recently pointed out (while speaking at the U of M as part of International Women’s Day on March 15), women are the majority of the world’s population and not a “special interest group.” She also forcefully asserted that it is a myth that the women’s movement is a movement of Western women bringing their ideas to other societies and “causing trouble.” Morgan says that women’s rights issues are globally interconnected and women everywhere, of all classes, from India to the U.S., recognize the enormous value of women working for better conditions.

Condoleezza Rice knows full well that conditions for women in Iraq are horrid and have deteriorated since the 2003 invasion, but in the unfortunate tradition of Jeanne Kirkpatrick or Madeline Albright (who claimed that the deaths of one million Iraqi children under U.S.-imposed economic sanctions in the 1990s was “worth the price”), Rice’s turning a blind eye to the plight of Iraqi women informs us that gender alone does not make one an advocate for human rights. Ms. Rice speaks only for the patriarchal Bush administration, whose policies run roughshod over women and children in the goal of controlling Iraq’s oil and making Iraq its newest client state.

Let’s make sure that Rice’s voice of hypocrisy is drowned out by our voices, in chorus with Iraqi women, as we call for the demilitarization of Iraq and an end to all discrimination and oppression of Iraqi women.

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--> This article appeared on worldwidewamm.org and was also published and printed in the WAMM last month's issue (April).

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