Sunday, April 30, 2006 interview with Yanar Mohammed and Houzan Mahmoud about the situation of women in Iraq

Iraqi women much worse off under occupation

4/13/2006 8:48:00 PM GMT

Iraqi women were treated far better during the Saddam Hussein era, and their rights were much more respected, local rights NGOs concluded after an extensive survey in Iraq.
"We interviewed women in the country and met with local NGOs dealing with gender issues to develop this survey, which asked questions about the quality of women's life and respect for their rights," said Senar Muhammad, president of Baghdad-based NGO Woman Freedom Organization, a sister organization of MADRE, an international women’s rights group. "The results show that women are less respected now than they were under the previous regime, while their freedom has been curtailed."
According to the survey, women’s basic rights under Saddam's regime were respected and guaranteed in the constitution, with women often occupying top government posts. But now, although women’s rights are still enshrined in the national constitution, they complain that they lost almost all of their rights. "Before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, women were free to go to schools, universities and work, and to perform other duties,” Senar said. “Now, due to security reasons and repression by the government, they're being forced to stay in their homes."
The new Iraqi constitution, which was written under the U.S. government's supervision, is based on the Islamic Sharia law, which, according to Senar, has been misinterpreted by some elements within the government. This resulted in the frequent denial of women’s right, especially in matters related to divorce, she said.
Women make up about 60 percent of the total Iraqi population. Despite a 25 percent representative presence in parliament, they are seldom entrusted with senior government positions, while their contribution to political debate is rarely taken seriously. Women’s rights group also say that many members of the new government have a conservative view regarding the role of women. "When we tell the government we need more representation in parliament, they respond by telling us that, if well-qualified women appear one day, they won't be turned down," said Senar. "Then they laugh at us."
Government officials deny the charges, claiming that women’s political views are respected and that they are better represented in the new government than under Saddam regime. "They occupy important positions in our ministries, positions which Saddam never gave them. But they have to understand that some posts, such as the presidential one, are difficult for women because of security problems, said government spokesperson Laith Kubba.
But many female activists disagree, saying that the presence of a few women in some decision-making positions shouldn’t mislead people. "The U.S. administration has handpicked a few women and imposed them on people in the so-called parliament," said Houzan Mahmoud from the Organization of Women’s Freedom. "These women are very unknown to Iraqi women. Most of them belong to the reactionary, right-wing parties in power and they follow their agenda, which is discriminatory against women."
Houzan also noted that the position of women vary within Iraq. "In the Kurdish part, the situation of women is slightly better because Iraqi Kurdistan was not part of the U.S. military attacks in 2003. However, the attitude toward women is not progressive there." But the south is directly under daily military occupation, she said. "Also, the so-called parliament is divided on the bases of religious sects and ethnic backgrounds,” she Houzan added.
The NGOs survey also found out that women’s unemployment and poverty levels have increased dramatically since the U.S.-led invasion. "Female unemployment is now twice as high as that for males, while female poverty has also increased," said Iman Saeed, spokesperson for another women's NGO that helped conduct the survey. "In addition, the number of widows – already high as a result of the Iran-Iraq war [in the 1980s] – has increased since the U.S. invasion, making the situation worse."
The authors of the survey urged the United States and international organizations to pressure the Iraqi government to give some top government positions to women. "The current leaders don't think of us as potential presidents or vice-presidents, arguing that women can't hold such important posts," said Shams Yehia, a professor at Baghdad University who helped conduct the survey. "We appeal to all bodies to force the Iraqi government to give us our rights back."
The NGOs are also calling for the deployment of a UN-led peacekeeping force in Iraq and an immediate end to the U.S. occupation. As the crisis in the war-torn country intensifies, female activists say women and their families are in urgent need for security, functional government and the provision of basic services within a human rights framework.
Over the three years of occupation, the situation is getting more dangerous and bleak with the presence of the occupation forces, and “the more violence and terrorism is in function in Iraq, the more women will fall victims of such climate," said Houzan. “The rape, abduction, abuse in prisons by prison guards, and killing of women is widespread… The lack of security and proper protection for women is a major issue and no one, neither the occupying forces nor the local police of the puppet regime, is doing anything about it."Women would first like to see "an end to the military occupation which has created chaos and destruction of Iraqi society and also resulted in the daily mass killing of ordinary Iraqis,” Houzan said. Women particularly would "want to see security restored so at least they can go out freely without being attacked, kidnapped, or having acid thrown on their face…. In addition, women want equality, freedom, and their rights to be recognized in the constitution, and above all to be treated as equal human beings."

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

My Article which was published in the Tribune on the 3rd anniversary of Iraq war

Iraqis still live with “shock and awe”

On the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, Houzan Mahmoud says that women in the country are bearing the brunt as things go from bad to worse.

This article is published by the Tribune on 31 March 2006

On March 20, the Iraqi people have reached the dismal milestone of the third-year point since the United State-led invasion of Iraq. From the shock and awe of the aerial bombardment of 20 March 2003, they are now contemplating a fourth year of continuing terrorism, extreme insecurity, destruction, and the daily violation of women’s rights.

As we know, war in Iraq was sold to the world as a mission to bring about an end to “terrorism”, to plant the seed of “democracy” in this part of the middle east, and to free Iraqis from Saddam’s country-wide torture chamber. And as we equally now know, this has been far from the outcome, with Abu Ghraib’s ghastly porno-torture images, mass imprisonments and the daily bombing and shooting outrages.

Meanwhile, a parliament headed by a Shia majority are currently intent on ruling Iraq according to a version of Islamic law, or Sharia. Apart from the horrors of growing Shia–Sunni sectarianism, a major concern is the effect this is having on women’s rights in Iraq.

Resurgent Islamists are pushing Iraqi women back into a corner. Having enjoyed greater rights compared to women in the region for years, Iraqi women are now being stripped of even their basic rights. The ability to choose their own clothes, to be able to love or marry whom they want to. Life’s simple things are all now under heavy threat.

It has been calculated that in the last three years in excess of 2,000 women and girls in Iraq have been subject to kidnap, rape or even death on the grounds of preserving so-called ‘family honour’. The forced veiling of women has made a comeback. Women are now genuinely frightened of punishment from violent “moral” groups in the streets.

And it gets worse. Representatives of the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq recently discovered a jail in al-Kazemiah district of Baghdad holding over 200 women (and some children) in appalling conditions. They were held by the Shia-dominated authorities, some for supposed involvement with the insurgency, some for other reasons. Many had been tortured or raped. I have the names of several victims (which cannot be revealed for reason of safety) and I have passed them to Amnesty International.

Between the roadside car bombs, hostage-taking and sporadic US “offensives”, we don’t hear much of the lives of ordinary Iraqis. Perhaps because it is not a happy subject. Children are queuing up at hospitals in various cities to sell their blood to raise money to survive. Drug abuse is widespread and many orphans are dependent. Child prostitution is now rife. One untold story is the growing gangsterism surrounding prostitution in general - countless women are being forced into selling their bodies. The lucky ones are fleeing the country in large numbers - chiefly to Jordan and Syria.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq has been an unmitigated disaster. I hold absolutely no brief for Saddam Hussein, whose cruelty was well-known. His regime was often vicious. I am one of its victims and I personally witnessed much brutality under his rule. But the subjugation of women was never a Ba’athist goal. Instead women are now caught between a pincer movement of a heavy-handed (and despised) occupation that cares little for women’s rights in Iraq, and an increasingly reactionary Islamic armed insurrection that aims to imprison women.

But there is still hope. Ask most Iraqis (the vast majority) and they will tell you that the exit of the Multinational Force is an absolutely essential if violence is ever to end in Iraq. And women’s rights need to be brought right up the political agenda. For example, the present Iraqi administration has provided absolutely no financial support for women’s refuges in Iraq. Instead my own organisation provides safe houses and safe rooms in Baghdad and Kirkuk. But we do this on a shoestring, dependent on support from women’s groups in the US and the Netherlands.

But there are signs that people in Iraq are determined to resist the violence of the insurgents, the occupying powers and the Islamists. In a number of districts of Baghdad, for example, committees formed by a new non-religious grouping called the Iraq Freedom Congress have recently formed to defend people’s safety. In Alexandria, Mahmoodya and Husseinya districts of the capital people do simple ‘community watch’ things like warn neighbours of possible impending attacks. It is a basic, homespun activity taking place in the security vacuum enveloping Iraq, but it works.

It is these efforts in Iraq that need international backing, and not divisive religious parties. The US/UK governments’ claim that they have “freed” Iraq has been thoroughly exposed as a lie. Three years on it’s time to start supporting the people of Iraq and their efforts to turn the corner on sectarianism and war.

Houzan Mahmoud is an Iraqi who lives in the UK. She is the UK head of the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq and a member of the central council of the Iraq Freedom Congress

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Photos of my speaking tour in USA and Canada 18-26 March 2006

Investigating women and war

March 30, 2006

The role of women as leaders, victims and helpers in the Iraq war drew strong debate at a CUNY Queens College conference held to commemorate Women's History Month.

This is my interview which was conducted by Bill Weinberg


The Iraqi Freedom Congress and the Civil Resistance

by Bill Weinberg

Houzan Mahmoud is a co-founder of the Iraqi Freedom Congress (IFC), a new initiative to build a democratic, secular and progressive alternative to both the US occupation and political Islam in Iraq. Mahmoud, who fled Iraq in 1996 and is currently studying at the Univearsity of London, is also a co-founder of the Iraqi Women's Rights Coalition and editor-in-chief of Equal Rights Now, paper of the Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI). A key representative abroad of the Iraqi civil resistance, she spoke in New York City on March 21 at a talk sponsored by the New School for Pluralistic Anti-Capitalist Education (The New SPACE). Later that night, she spoke with WW4 REPORT editor Bill Weinberg on WBAI Radio.
BW: Welcome aboard, Houzan Mahmoud, of the Iraqi Freedom Congress and the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq. You were just speaking on the Lower East Side this evening and the night before at Queens College, to raise awareness in this country about the existence of a civil, secular resistance movement in Iraq—which shamefully, many people know nothing about, even people who are supposedly progressives and committed to the anti-war movement.
HM: Yeah, that's very true, unfortunately. So thank you very much for this opportunity, for me to be able to address the listeners about the resistance and the work we are doing to end the occupation.

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