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Cablegate: Ninewa Councilwomen Unite to Empower Iraqi Women

VZCZCXRO9988
PP RUEHBC RUEHDA RUEHDE RUEHIHL RUEHKUK
DE RUEHGB #1576 1421702
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 211702Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7481
INFO RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS BAGHDAD 001576

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL SOCI IZ
SUBJECT: NINEWA COUNCILWOMEN UNITE TO EMPOWER IRAQI WOMEN

Summary
-------

1. (U) PRT Ninewa recently initiated a series of discussions
with several prominent female local government leaders to
discuss obstacles and ways forward on women's empowerment
issues, including institutional discrimination and
traditional attitudes regarding gender roles. Recognizing
the need for more awareness of these issues and leadership
training, the women offered several suggestions for an
upcoming U.S. military-sponsored women's conference. PRT
intends to continue facilitating such discussions in pursuit
of broader U.S. objectives. End Summary.

Female Leaders Face Institutional Discrimination
--------------------------------------------- ---

2. (SBU) PRT members participated in an initial meeting on
April 28 and a May 8 follow-on meeting hosted by seven female
elected and appointed provincial government officials. The
women were from the province's Sunni Arab, Sunni Kurd and
Christian communities. The participants discussed the
systemic gender discrimination that they face from their male
peers. One lawyer and newsletter editor observed that the
male-dominated council regularly discounts ideas presented by
women but, when presented by men, the same ideas are
immediately pushed forward. Another woman, who works with
the women's education and economic empowerment in rural
Ninewa, similarly noted that she is not greeted with the same
respect as males during her visits to local districts in
spite of her rank.

3. (SBU) Another woman, who works with reconstruction and
election issues, attributed discrimination to national
political trends and asserted that the Iraqi parliament would
consist of significantly less than its current twenty-five
percent women if there were not USG pressure for women's
participation. She elaborated that men in parliament often
step forward publicly with democratic ideas and support for
women's rights but still privately believe women should only
be mothers and homemakers. A woman who works with education
generated some discord by expressing sympathy for this
traditional view of gender roles. Referring to the Koran,
however, she agreed that women should be "full partners" in
political and economic decision making long as they "know
their limits."

Ways Forward: Media Campaigns and Leadership Training
--------------------------------------------- --------

4. (SBU) Moving beyond these differences and calling for
action, one woman insisted that it is not enough for women to
understand their rights -- men also need to know that women
can be equal partners. Her colleagues generally concurred
with her contention that the most effective way to counter
the root causes of gender bias, such as the relative absence
of strong role models for young Iraqi women, is to work
through local media to conduct awareness raising campaigns.
They also agreed on the importance of establishing a women's
"watchdog" NGO which would focus on how laws affect women's
rights.

5. (SBU) All the women agreed that for these programs to be
effective women must have more training opportunities like
the upcoming Multi-National Division-North women's
conference. Many women said they were particularly
interested in additional focus on legal obstacles to women's
rights, including legislation banning women from serving as
judges, the government's failure to protect women from
so-called "honor killings," and guarantees of education to
young girls. In addition, they said they are interested in
practical training in leadership, budgeting, public speaking
and economic empowerment.

Comment
-------

6. (SBU) The PRT's series of meetings with women leaders
highlighted both the capacity and the courage of Ninewa's
women. Their refined suggestions for future training
programs will serve as a jumping off point for PRT efforts to
facilitate opportunities for women in the province and
encourage networking across ethnic and sectarian boundaries.

CROCKER

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