4,000 women run in Iraq’s provincial elections: how significant?

Iraq’s provincial elections Jan. 31 saw 4,000 women as candidates for 147 of the roughly 440 seats on provincial councils in 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces, and many of them will be guaranteed seats under an electoral quota system. Regardless of the votes their candidates receive, parties are required to give every third seat to a woman, according to a report by the International Crisis Group. The ultimate share of seats held by women will depend on the distribution of votes among parties, the report said. But some woman candidates quoted by the media questioned how significant the change really is.

Nibras al-Mamuri, a secular candidate the Baghdad provincial council, argues that fundamentalists have taken over the country since the 2005 elections. She told CNN: “Although a woman’s role in the Arab world is mainly that of a mother and child bearer, I want to prove that women are just as capable as men when it comes to challenging arenas… An Iraqi woman can be an equal. She can participate in change.”

McClatchy Newspapers spoke to Islam Abbas Faraj, a candidate in Diyala province, who was compelled to run by her husband’s forced disappearance. Last August, Iraq’s Shi’ite-dominated security forces raided the government compound where her husband, Hussein al-Zubaidi, a member of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party and the head of the provincial council’s security committee, was sleeping. They killed the governor and hauled her husband away. They accused Zubaidi of connections to terrorism, and Faraj hasn’t seen him since. She decided to run for office and fill her husband’s shoes, to use politics to get him released. “His detention was political, and after he was detained, I decided that I would go all the way and make every effort to reach a position where I can make a difference,” she said.

Faraj expresses skepticism of how meaningful the figure of 4,000 women candidates really is. “I don’t know why they consider this to be an achievement, because women make up more than 60% of the population,” she said. “This is something we are looking to change in the future. If women win, we would have more peace and less violence.”

She said that in the villages of Diyala, most women will vote the same way the men in their families do. “Whether the women will be allowed to vote independently or not is an unknown quantity in the equation,” she said. “Some men will demand that the women of their family vote as they do, but at the end of the day she has the right, and it’s up to each of them whether to use it independently or otherwise.”

Faraj admits she is afraid. Three Sunni candidates were murdered in Iraq on last week, and her assassination would leave her two children parentless and alone. Faraj lives in the small city of Khalis north of Diyala’s provincial capital, Baqouba. The city straddles a sectarian fault line where a cycle of killings by Sunni and Shi’ite militants forced families to remain in their homes like prisoners until very recently. “It was like a ghost town,” she said. “Armed groups, militias, and kidnappings and murder were the norm every day.” She still feels threatened when campaigning in rural villages.

The New York Times spoke to Safia Taleb al-Suhail, a member of parliament who led a group of female lawmakers that lobbied to ensure that the constitutional provision that mandates that 25% of all parliament seats go to women is also applied to provincial councils. Suhail, the daughter of a Shi’ite tribal leader assassinated by Saddam Hussein’s henchmen in Lebanon in 1994, returned to Iraq after the regime’s fall to participate in shaping her country’s political future. Suhail was among those who lobbyied Iraq’s US administrator at the time, Paul Bremer, to include the quota for women in the country’s first transitional constitution. It was preserved in the current constitution because as the only way to assure the participation of women in a male-dominated culture. But the final version of the law regulating the provincial elections omitted the quota for women when it was published in October, sparking a new political struggle.

Mahdiya Abed-Hassan al-Lami, a women’s rights advocate and candidate in Baghdad running on the slate of former prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, told the Times that while she supports the quota system, it had been manipulated by the major political parties to marginalize women. Most of the women chosen for the slates are there because of family and tribal connections. “If women are simply followers, they cannot fulfill their roles properly,” said Lami, who is a teacher and a devout Shiite. Her campaign has focused on reaching out to her network of women, particularly in some of the most destitute slums of Baghdad. (CNN, Jan. 31; McClatchy, Jan. 30; NYT, Jan. 29)

Women gain ground—in suicide bombings
In the 72 hours before the provincial elections, US and Iraqi forces targeted more than 100 people suspected of attempting to disrupt the balloting. Iraqi officials announced the arrest of a woman they said was responsible for recruiting dozens of female suicide bombers. At a press conference, Iraqi military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta showed a video of the elderly woman, identified as Sameera Ahmed Jassim, in which she described recruitment methods.

More than 30 women blew themselves up in Iraq last year compared to eight in 2007, according to US military figures. US and Iraqi officials blame the increase on Sunni insurgents running short of male recruits and turning to women for the missions. Suspected suicide bombers were among those rounded up in the sweep conducted in the 72 hours leading up to the elections, said Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, the commander of US forces in Baghdad and its surrounding region. (LAT, Feb. 3)

See our last post on the women in Iraq.

  1. Nice, balanced article
    Iraq’s population is about 24 million, probably. Some 65 percent or 15.6 million are Shiite Arabs. Another 15 percent or 3.6 million are Sunni Arabs. 20% are something else.

    Iraq is divided into 18 governorates (or provinces). The current set of governorates was established in 1976. As of October 2008, thirteen of the eighteen governorates are under direct Iraqi control.

    This will make politics very interesting in the election and of course families and tribes will be looking for a placement. The women’s movement as in the western culture being pushed in other cultures cares only for women’s needs and wants in a so called “man’s world”.

    This would not suit all the females in Iraq because not all consider women only to suffer.

    Abbas Faraj, a candidate in Diyala province, decided to run for office and fill her husband’s shoes, to use politics to get him released. “His detention was political, and after he was detained, I decided that I would go all the way and make every effort to reach a position where I can make a difference,” she said.

    This is the same point of view female refugees have in NZ. They have lost not just one son but for some; All their sons. Even their husbands and their fathers. They are also aware of the torture their men experienced.

    Women have every right to vote independently and this includes voting a male candidate or putting their cultural/family/tribe first. The idea that females taking the leadership roles will create peace is giving a false picture of reality as is explained in the amount of women becoming suicide bombers and recruiting suicide bombers. They ARE thinking for themselves. It will be some time before feminism can unplug them from their culture and religion, and plug them into a new one. The more the money and western education comes in from the west, the faster women will start attacking masculinity, marriage and women’s roles in the community. Also the faster western corporatism enters.

    Whether this is for the better is not completely known. I just hope the murdering of women leaders is minimal while the culture is broken down.

    What would be better is if the women decide and implement their own kind of feminism.

    1. Oops, too late.
      Women have already began to abuse their victim status.

      Iraqi woman had 80 women raped to recruit suicide bombers
      Article from: Agence France-Presse
      Correspondents in Baghdad

      February 04, 2009 09:15am

      A WOMAN suspected of recruiting more than 80 female suicide bombers has confessed to organising their rapes so she could later convince them that martyrdom was the only way to escape the shame.

      Samira Jassam, 51, was arrested by Iraqi police and confessed to recruiting the women and orchestrating dozens of attacks.

      In a video confession, she explained how she had mentally prepared the women for martyrdom operations, passed them on to terrorists who provided explosives, and then took the bombers to their targets.

      “We arrested Samira Jassim, known as ‘Um al-Mumenin’, the mother of the believers, who was responsible for recruiting 80 women”, Major General Qassim Atta said.

      “She confessed her responsibility for these actions, and she confirmed that 28 attempts had been made in one of the terrorists’ strongholds,” he said.

      Samira Jassim was arrested on January 21. She is allegedly linked to the Ansar al-Sunnah insurgent group.

      Two of the attacks for which Samira Jassim admitted responsibility in the video confession took place in Diyala province, in central Iraq, which is considered one of the most dangerous areas of the country.

      The Associated Press reports US military figures indicate at least 36 female suicide bombers attempted or carried out 32 attacks last year. Women are often allowed through military checkpoints without being searched, making it easier for them to hide explosives under their traditional robes.


  2. Anti-gay backlash in Iraq
    From the New York Times, April 7:

    BAGHDAD — The relative freedom of a newly democratic Iraq and the recent improvement in security have allowed a gay subculture to flourish here. The response has been swift and deadly.

    In the past two months, the bodies of as many as 25 boys and men suspected of being gay have turned up in the huge Shiite enclave of Sadr City, the police and friends of the dead say. Most have been shot, some multiple times. Several have been found with the word “pervert” in Arabic on notes attached to their bodies, the police said…

    Clerics in Sadr City have urged followers to help root out homosexuality in Iraqi society, and the police have begun their own crackdown on gay men.

    “Homosexuality is against the law,” said Lt. Muthana Shaad, at a police station in the Karada district, a neighborhood that has become popular with gay men. “And it’s disgusting.”

    For the past four months, he said, officers have been engaged in a “campaign to clean up the streets and get the beggars and homosexuals off them.”

    Gay men, he said, can be arrested only if they are seen engaging in sex, but the police try to drive them away. “These people, we make sure they can’t get together in a coffee shop or walk together in the street — we make them break up,” he said.

    Gay men and lesbians in Iraq have long been among the targets of both Shiite and Sunni death squads, but their murders have been overshadowed by the hundreds of overall weekly casualties during the height of sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007.

    In 2005, the country’s most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a religious decree that said gay men and lesbians should be “punished, in fact, killed.” He added, “The people should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing.” The language has since been removed from his Web site.

  3. Anti-gay backlash deepens
    From AFP, April 18:

    Shadowy group threatens to kill gays in Iraq
    BAGHDAD — A shadowy group has posted signs around the Iraqi capital’s main Shiite working-class district of Sadr City naming alleged homosexuals on a list and threatening to kill them.

    “We will punish you, perverts,” the posters say. They are signed by the “Brigades of the Righteous,” a previously unknown outfit with the same name as an armed group responsible for kidnapping five Britons in 2007.

    Residents said that those named on the list have gone into hiding.

    Elsewhere in the neighbourhood, someone has written: “We will get you, puppies,” in red graffiti, using the Iraqi slang for homosexuals.

    Police earlier this month recovered the bullet-riddled bodies of three men said to have been homosexuals in Sadr City, a bastion of followers of the anti-US Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

    Two of the bodies had notes attached to them with the word “Pervert,” a security official said.

    Residents told AFP that the bodies of two youths aged 16 and 18 were also found in an empty lot on the edges of Sadr City, and that two homosexuals had earlier been dumped in the street with their arms and legs broken.

    Homosexuality is forbidden in Islam, frowned upon in Arab society and illegal in many Middle Eastern countries. Iraq has no law against homosexuality but prominent religious authorities have harshly condemned it.