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Cablegate: Women Activists Press for International Support On

VZCZCXRO5709
PP RUEHBC RUEHDA RUEHDE RUEHIHL RUEHKUK
DE RUEHGB #1984/01 1801400
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 281400Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8030
INFO RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BAGHDAD 001984

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL IZ
SUBJECT: WOMEN ACTIVISTS PRESS FOR INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT ON
GENDER ISSUES

SUMMARY
--------

1. (SBU) Prominent members of the Iraqi Women's Movement
discussed the political and economic concerns of Iraqi women
at a seminar aimed at encouraging international support for
the participation of Iraqi women in the democratic
transitional process. The roundtable discussion included
female members of Parliament and Iraqi NGO directors,
representatives from the international diplomatic community
and UNAMI. The conference focused on a general assessment of
the Iraqi political scene and revision of the Constitution,
the women's quota in the upcoming elections, violence against
women, obtaining support for Iraqi civil society movements,
and the role women play in building peace and security. Some
of the women noted that women parliamentarians and activists
need to unite their efforts in order to serve the interests
of all Iraqi women. END SUMMARY.

WOMEN KEY TO BUILDING PEACE AND STABILITY
------------------------------------------

2. (SBU) At a June 23 roundtable discussion held in
partnership with UNDP, prominent Iraqi women presented their
views on what they consider the most urgent issues facing
women in Iraq. The Iraqi participants included Minister of
Environment and Acting Minister of State for Women's Affairs
Narmin Othman; MP and Chair of the Iraqi Independent Women's
Group (IIWG) Maysoon Al-Damluji; MP and Head of the Civil
Society Commission in the Council of Representatives (CoR)
Alaa Talabani; the President's Advisor on Women's Affairs,
Ms. Salma Jaboo; General Secretary of the Al-Amal (Hope)
Association NGO; Hanaa Edwar; Al-Amal Association Projects
Manager Basma Al-Khateeb; and Chair of Women for Peace NGO
Shatha Naji. Foreign participants included the Ambassadors of
Japan and the Netherlands; UNAMI Human Rights Officers, and
Emboffs.

3. (SBU) Minister Othman led off the discussion by
highlighting the need for practical solutions to Iraq's
political and economic problems, because stability depends on
solving these problems. Noting the conflict between
differing ideological beliefs, Othman stated that even though
violence had decreased, most of the current solutions were
military, rather than political, and this marginalized women
in establishing peace and security. Othman referred to a
conflict of beliefs in the GOI and the lack of a united GOI
strategy. Various strategies, which reflected the personal
beliefs of those in charge of the various ministries, stalled
progress in building a united, stable Iraq. Othman deplored
the lack of agreement even on what democracy is (should be)
in Iraq, rhetorically asking: "Is it Islamic democracy, or
secular, liberal democracy?" Nevertheless, Othman expressed
confidence that in spite of conflicting views, she believes
the situation will to some extent stabilize following
elections.

STRUGGLING FOR A WOMEN'S QUOTA
------------------------------

4. (SBU) MP Maysoon Al-Damluji spoke out in support of
designating 25 percent of seats for women in the Iraqi
Parliament, as stipulated by the Iraqi Constitution. The
Iraqi Federal Supreme Court further stipulates in a 2007
letter that a 25 percent women's quota must exist in all
legislative councils, including provincial councils, and this
is also stated in Article 50 of the draft provincial
elections bill. However, the mechanism to implement this
presents challenges. How to fill at least a quarter of
provincial council seats in the upcoming provincial elections
using an open list system remains one of several unresolved
issues in the ongoing CoR debate over the provincial election
law. Al-Damluji called upon the international community to
support the women's quota by openly expressing views in
support of the quota and by supporting female candidates in
all provinces.

ARTICLE 41: WOMEN'S RIGHTS STUMBLING BLOCK
---------------------------

5. (SBU) Hanaa Edwar, Narmin Othman and nearly all of
Iraqi women present, called for the removal of the
controversial Article 41 from the Iraq Constitution. (Note:
Article 41 states Iraqis are free in their commitment to
their personal status according to their religions, sects,
beliefs, or choices, and this shall be regulated by law. End
note) Edwar stressed the necessity of eliminating all
references to religion and sects in matters regardng personal
status. In her view, the judicial system was weakened by the
possibility of religious authorities intefering in matters of
personal status, such as divorce, polygamy, and the minimum

BAGHDAD 00001984 002 OF 002


age for marriage; issues over which there were disputes
within some religions. Furthermore, Article 41 disregarded
international conventions on human rights.

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN HARMS ALL IRAQIS
-----------------------------

6. (SBU) Salma Jaboo deplored the increasing violence
against Iraqi women and society's silence surrounding the
issue, which was exacerbated by all the other problems facing
Iraqis. She noted women are still vulnerable to political
violence and generally excluded from decisionmaking and high
positions. Social violence in the form of domestic violence
hit Iraqi women particularly hard since they could not trust
the security forces to aid them when violated. Iraqi laws
blatantly violated women's rights by not offering protection
against domestic violence and honor killings. (Note:
Recently, after KRG PM Nechirvan intervened, an order was
issued to consider honor killings as first degree murder in
Kurdistan. End note.) According to Jaboo, urban militias
and the general lack of law and order allowed human
trafficking and prostitution to flourish, while educated,
middle class women were forced to emigrate. Jaboo also
characterized the plight of the estimated one million widows
in Iraq as a form of violence against women.

CIVIL SOCIETY ADVANCING
-----------------------

7. (SBU) Alaa Talabani, chair of the Civil Society
Committee in the CoR was elated, having recently received
word from PM Maliki's office that it will issue a
recommendation for the draft civil society law to be
considered by the Shura Council. Talabani said she is
confident that the law will eventually be passed by the CoR
and asked attendees to express support for the law when
engaging GOI contacts. Talabani is keen to dissolve the
Ministry for Civil Society and establish a civil society
commission in its place. She believes such a commission, if
staffed by qualified, competent people, will be more capable
of promoting and regulating NGOs and civil society in Iraq.

GENDER ISSUES REQUIRE SPECIAL ATTENTION
-----------------------------

8. (SBU) Basma Al-Khateeb proposed that diplomatic missions
to Iraq appoint gender advisors to their staff to follow up
on International Compact on Iraq (ICI) objectives and
commitments. Al-Khateeb noted that GOI institutions lacked
expert staff (partially due to the emigration of qualified
people) and operated without credible development
strategies. Development and capacity building programs
needed to be gender sensitized in order to optimize the role
women could play in building peace and security.

UNITED EFFORTS CAN ACHIEVE MORE FOR IRAQI WOMEN
--------------------------

9. (SBU) In the open discussion that followed, UNAMI and EU
participants highlighted their work in support of Iraqi
women. The EU representative noted that in the agreement the
EU is currently negotiating with the GOI, special mention is
made of the need to strengthen the role of Iraqi women in
both public and private life. UNAMI noted that it is
preparing reports on gender-based violence in Iraq. Narmine
Othman observed that only five percent of women in the CoR
speak up and make their presence felt. She stated that even
if Iraqi women achieve a 25 percent quota in all legislative
councils, women legislators will not make a difference for
all Iraqi women unless they actively exploit their presence
in government. Furthermore, some female politicians were
loyal to their party leadership, regardless of its stance on
women's rights. Alaa Talabani noted that until now efforts
to form a CoR women's caucus had been unsuccessful; she
attributed this to the widely varying backgrounds of female
CoR members and disagreement over how to deal with
gender-related issues.
CROCKER

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