Iraqi women find election a cruel joke
Houzan Mahmoud, Iraq
January 30, 2005
I am an Iraqi woman, and I am boycotting the elections. Women
who do vote will be voting for an enslaved future. Surely, say
those who support these elections, after decades of tyranny,
here at last is a form of democracy, imperfect, but democracy
In reality, these elections are, for Iraq's women, little more
than a cruel joke. Amid the suicide attacks, kidnappings and
U.S.-led military assaults since Saddam Hussein's fall, the
little-reported phenomenon is the sharp increase in the
persecution of Iraqi women. Women are the new victims of Islamic
groups intent on restoring a medieval barbarity and of a
political establishment that cares little for women's
Having for years enjoyed greater rights than other Middle East
women, women in Iraq are losing even their basic freedoms—the
right to choose their clothes, the right to love or marry whom
they want. Of course women suffered under Saddam. I fled his
cruel regime. I personally witnessed much brutality but the
subjugation of women was never a Baath Party goal. What we are
seeing is deeply worrying: a reviled occupation and an openly
reactionary Islamic armed insurrection taking Iraq into a new
Every day, leaflets are distributed across the country warning
women against going out unveiled, wearing makeup or mixing with
men. Many female university students have given up their studies
to protect themselves against the Islamists.
The new norm—enforced at the barrel of a gun by Islamic
extremists—is to see women as the repository of honor and
shame, not only on behalf of family and tribe but the nation.
Ken Bigley's abductors perversely wanted to redeem the "honor"
of Iraq through obtaining the release of female prisoners. Since
when did Islamic groups—the very people doing the hostage
taking, torturing and killing—start caring about the rights
of Iraqi women?
Take the case of Anaheed. She was suspended to a tree in the New
Baghdad area of the capital and then first shot by her father (a
solicitor no less) and then by each member of her tribe. She was
then cut into pieces.
This to clear the shame on the tribe's honor for having wanted
to marry a man she was in love with. This happened in late 2003,
months after the "liberation."
In the last six months at least eight women have been killed in
Mosul alone—all apparently by Islamic groups clamping down on
female independence. Among these, a professor from the city's
law school was shot and beheaded, a vet was killed on her way to
work and a pharmacist from the Alkhansah hospital was shot dead
on her doorstep.
The occupation has unleashed this new violence against women,
while in some cases adding its own particular variety. Iraqi
women have been tortured by U.S. soldiers in prisons. The social
taboo against speaking about sexual abuse is so strong in Iraq
that these women will almost certainly have no one to turn to
Methal Kazem is one woman who spoke publicly of her treatment by
the occupiers. Last February a U.S. helicopter landed on the
roof of her house. She was hooded and handcuffed and taken to
Accused of being a former Baathist secret policewoman, she was
made to run on sharp gravel, tied up and suspended and made to
listen to the screaming of other inmates. She heard one man
repeatedly screaming "do not touch my honor" and Methal believes
that the man's wife was being raped in front of him.
When Allied forces handed over power to the interim government
last June, they should, as Amnesty International has argued,
have handed over prisoners. Instead they have illegally detained
more than 2,000 without charge. Few of these may be women but it
still leaves thousands of wives, mothers and sisters in distress
I also believe that American soldiers have raped Iraqi women.
They dare not talk about it, however, as they face being killed
by their own families if they do. My associates in Iraq have
been counseling Liqaa, a former Iraqi female soldier, who was
raped by an American soldier in November 2003. The savage truth
is that if she returns home, male family members may murder her
for her "dishonor."
If Iraqi women take part in the elections, who are they to vote
Women's rights are ignored by most of the candidates. The U.S.
government appears happy to have Iraq governed by reactionary
religious and ethnocentric elites.
The one glimmer of hope is that courageous demonstrations
against rape and kidnapping have taken place. In September, a
women's protest fused opposition to the occupation, a demand
that all Islamic militia forces leave cities and a call for safe
streets for women. This new women-led secular progressive
movement is against the interim government and against the
violence and restriction of political Islam. Those who support
us should publicly renounce these phony elections and campaign
for a truly free Iraq.
Houzan MahMoud, an Iraqi living in Britain, is the United
Kingdom head of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq.
This article was first published in The Independent in Great Britain. Reprinted in the