Sunday, August 06, 2006


Iraqi blogger Riverbend on the state of women's rights in post-Saddam Iraq:

For me, June marked the first month I don't dare leave the house without a hijab, or headscarf. I don't wear a hijab usually, but it's no longer possible to drive around Baghdad without one. It’s just not a good idea. (Take note that when I say 'drive' I actually mean 'sit in the back seat of the car'- I haven’t driven for the longest time.) Going around bare-headed in a car or in the street also puts the family members with you in danger. You risk hearing something you don’t want to hear and then the father or the brother or cousin or uncle can’t just sit by and let it happen. I haven’t driven for the longest time. If you’re a female, you risk being attacked.

I look at my older clothes- the jeans and t-shirts and colorful skirts- and it’s like I’m studying a wardrobe from another country, another lifetime. There was a time, a couple of years ago, when you could more or less wear what you wanted if you weren’t going to a public place. If you were going to a friends or relatives house, you could wear trousers and a shirt, or jeans, something you wouldn’t ordinarily wear. We don’t do that anymore because there’s always that risk of getting stopped in the car and checked by one militia or another.

There are no laws that say we have to wear a hijab (yet), but there are the men in head-to-toe black and the turbans, the extremists and fanatics who were liberated by the occupation, and at some point, you tire of the defiance. You no longer want to be seen. I feel like the black or white scarf I fling haphazardly on my head as I walk out the door makes me invisible to a certain degree- it’s easier to blend in with the masses shrouded in black. If you’re a female, you don’t want the attention- you don’t want it from Iraqi police, you don’t want it from the black-clad militia man, you don’t want it from the American soldier. You don’t want to be noticed or seen.

I have nothing against the hijab, of course, as long as it is being worn by choice. Many of my relatives and friends wear a headscarf. Most of them began wearing it after the war. It started out as a way to avoid trouble and undue attention, and now they just keep it on because it makes no sense to take it off. What is happening to the country?

I realized how common it had become only in mid-July when M., a childhood friend, came to say goodbye before leaving the country. She walked into the house, complaining of the heat and the roads, her brother following closely behind. It took me to the end of the visit for the peculiarity of the situation to hit me. She was getting ready to leave before the sun set, and she picked up the beige headscarf folded neatly by her side. As she told me about one of her neighbors being shot, she opened up the scarf with a flourish, set it on her head like a pro, and pinned it snuggly under her chin with the precision of a seasoned hijab-wearer. All this without a mirror- like she had done it a hundred times over… Which would be fine, except that M. is Christian.
First Lady Laura Bush from a joint appearance with the President:

Our commitment to the women of Iraq is part of a broader effort to support women across the Middle East...

We're making progress toward greater rights for women in the Middle East and around the world.
President Bush from the same event:

In the last two-and-a-half years, we have seen remarkable and hopeful development in world history. Just think about it: More than 50 million men, women and children have been liberated from two of the most brutal tyrannies on earth -- 50 million people are free. All these people are now learning the blessings of freedom.

And for 25 million women and girls, liberation has a special significance. Some of these girls are attending school for the first time. It's hard for people in America to imagine. A lot of young girls now get to go to school. Some of the women are preparing to vote in free elections for the very first time.

The advance of freedom in the greater Middle East has given new rights and new hopes to women. And America will do its part to continue the spread of liberty.

The [constitution] that was written recently guarantees the basic rights of all Iraqis, men and women, including freedoms of worship, expression and association....

Iraqi women are already using their new political powers to guard against extremism and intolerance in any form, whether it be religious or secular.
Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger to FOX News:

"If the new Iraq is going to go into the 21st century at all sensibly and begin to make a difference in terms of the Muslim world, they're going to have to face that women's rights issue and they're going to have to get it right...[they can't] go on treating them like second- or third-class citizens."
Oh yeah? How's that coming along?

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