Women in Iraq struggle for their rights

March 10, 1999

SYDNEY — Green Left Weekly's LUCY HONEY and KYLIE MOON spoke to RIZAN NADIR, a member of the Committee in Defence of Iraqi Women (CDIW) who lives in Sydney, about the conditions women face in Iraq today.

"Women in Iraq have no rights over their lives — from education and work to control over their own bodies. They cannot decide for themselves whom they marry or love. Male members of the family decide this for them", Nadir explained. "Women who are permitted to work outside the home must do it on top of their domestic chores, as men refuse to do women's work."

Nadir said that the killing and burning of women "is a daily fact of life. Male family members, usually fathers and husbands, even sons, commit such acts in the name of preserving their 'reputation'.

"Under Islamic law, the punishment for a women who commits adultery is death. But women are also being murdered for quarrelling with their husbands, having any relationship with a man outside marriage and for being raped because this brings shame on the family.

"Women have been stoned to death in public, disabled, disfigured and kidnapped. Women have been kept hostage in their own homes ... Nahida Rostam Ahmed was imprisoned for eight years in a bathroom of her father's house."

Nadir said that the CDIW has 2000 reported murders on its records but the actual number is much higher. "Many women also attempt suicide by burning themselves", she added.

"Women standing up for their self-respect, refusing to blindly take orders, and taking part in gatherings without their family's permission are also considered crimes Iraq. This makes it very difficult to organise", Nadir pointed out.

"Nationalist and Islamic political forces actively promote backward ideas regarding the place of women in society and women's rights. They wage a holy war against women. Many left groups in the region are also not supportive of women's rights.

"Most women are struggling by themselves in the home. Organisations, like our own, find it very hard to speak out due to the danger of doing so", Nadir said.

The CDIW was established in Iraq as the Independent Women's Organisation in April 1986. In Australia, it was established in 1996. The committee publishes and distributes information about the situation faced by women in Iraq. It is campaigning to force the Iraqi government to take responsibility for the murder and torture of women.

Inside Iraq, the committee helps women victims of violence by providing safe houses. It organises meetings at schools, workplaces and public places. "At the moment we are campaigning to fund a new shelter for women at risk. It can house 20 women, most of them have children. We try and defend them the best we can", Nadir said.

The committee also campaigns against the sanctions imposed on Iraq by Washington, Nadir said. "The sanctions affect all Iraqi people, not just women. Because of the economic embargo, women's wages are much lower. Many women have had to give up work and stay home.

"The economic embargo has also forced many women to become prostitutes. Women whose husbands were killed or have gone missing in the Gulf War are forced to look after their children alone but cannot get the wage necessary to do this. This is the reason that most become prostitutes. If their family finds out, the woman in many cases is killed."

The CDIW is seeking financial support for shelter in Iraqi Kurdistan. Donations can be deposited in account 032231212669, Westpac Bank, Parramatta.

To receive a copy of the book Women in Kurdistan, Iraq: Help!, send $3 to the CDIW, PO Box 3051, Parramatta 2124.

[Kylie Moon is the Democratic Socialists' candidate for the seat of Parramatta in the March 27 NSW election.]

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