Women Suffer Untold Violence & Repression In Iraq
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release March 12, 2007
Women Suffer Untold Violence and Repression in U.S.-Occupied Iraq
Interview with Yifat Susskind, communications director with MADRE and author of a report on violence against Iraqi women, conducted by Melinda Tuhus
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The situation for Iraqi women since the U.S. invasion four years ago this month has deteriorated dramatically by every measure of daily survival: lack of access to clean water, electricity, food, education and jobs; and the absence of personal security. Women have virtually disappeared from public life in Iraq, yet their disappearance has been barely noted by media coverage of the war.
On March 6, MADRE, an international women's human rights organization based in New York City, released a report titled, "Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy: Gender-Based Violence and the US War on Iraq." The report, made public at a meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations, exposes what it calls "the incidence, causes, and legalization of gender-based violence in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion."
Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Yifat Susskind, communications director with MADRE, and author of the report. She discusses how Iraq's gender war and civil war are intertwined, as well as the role of U.S. occupation forces in the abuse of Iraqi women.
YIFAT SUSSKIND: Iraqis really have faced two inter-related crises since the U.S. invasion. One is, of course, the civil war and the sectarian cleansing that we’ve heard so much about. And another we’ve heard much less about, and that is this a very directed campaign of violence against women. The fact is that the systematic attacks on women and the sectarian cleansing are deeply intertwined. One of the things that MADRE was warning about back in 2005 when the Iraqi constitution was being drafted is that a lot of the provisions in the constitution that set the stage for sectarian conflict also inscribed what we’ve been calling gender apartheid – in other words, separate sets of laws, separate and unequal laws, for men and women on the basis of gender. All the articles of the constitution use sharia, or clerics’ interpretations of Islamic law, as the basis for national legislation in Iraq under the new constitution. It allows people who are unelected – in some cases self-appointed – religious authorities to de
BETWEEN THE LINES: Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq was a secular society and women had a lot of freedom and access to education and a wide range of jobs. Now it seems like you never see women in the public square at all.
YIFAT SUSSKIND: Well, I mean Iraqi women across the board are saying their lives are much, much worse now even than they were under the very brutal regime of Saddam Hussein. And that’s because violence now is really indiscriminate. It’s based on gender in many cases. But anybody who’s a woman (is) targeted. The so-called punishment committees of the Islamist militias in much of Iraq are patrolling streets and they’re attacking women who don’t dress to their liking. In a lot of places, these Islamists kill women who wear pants or appear in public without a head scarf. You know, most Iraqi women are virtually confined to their homes now, because of the likelihood of being beaten or raped or abducted in the streets.
BETWEEN THE LINES: And what about this recent case of a young Sunni woman going public with accusations of rape by Shia policemen? President al Maliki’s first response was to say they would investigate, and a few hours later he declared that she was lying. Given the fact that women in Iraq are often blamed and punished even when they’re the victims of rape, I can’t imagine her lying about it. Does MADRE have information about how widespread sexual assault is there now, situation for women? I can’t imagine her lying.
YIFAT SUSSKIND: The irony is that we saw that case presented very much in isolation. This young woman may have been the first Iraqi rape survivor to go on national television, but she’s hardly the first woman to accuse the U.S.-trained police force. One of the things that MADRE documents in our report is that 10 different Iraqi organizations and several major international agencies have all documented evidence of extensive rape and other forms of sexualized torture against Iraqi women by the police force that is sponsored by the U.S. And in that way, the Iraqi police are very much following in the footsteps of their U.S. sponsors, who themselves have a terrible record of rape and gender-based torture -- the most famous cases coming out of Abu Ghraib, but the truth is that gender-based violence in the prisons of Iraq, whether they’re being run by U.S. forces or Iraqi forces, is really kind of a routine horror now.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Your report also criticizes all the media, including the so-called alternative media of which I’m a part, for really not bringing this forward. And it’s true. I try to talk to groups like MADRE occasionally to get an update on these issues, but it certainly isn’t a big story out there, even though there’s so much coverage of the war in Iraq. What do you think needs to happen to improve this situation?
YIFAT SUSSKIND: Well, you know, the most simple answer I can give is to listen to Iraqi women. These are people whose voices have really been shut out of the discussion and the analysis of what’s going on in Iraq, despite the fact that women comprise, as they do in most countries, over half the population. What MADRE does in our report is retell the story of the Iraq war from the perspective of Iraqi women. And when we do that, we can see really clearly both the epidemic of violence that has gripped Iraq under U.S. occupation. And we can see that what’s true in every country is true in Iraq, namely that women’s human rights and democratic rights really go hand in hand, and that the Bush administration, for all its rhetoric, really has contempt for both genuine democracy and women’s rights.
Read a copy of the report online at http://www.madre.org or call the group at (212) 627-0444.
Related links on our website at http://www.btlonline.org/btl031607.html#2hed
• "Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy: Gender-Based Violence and the US War on Iraq Executive Summary," MADRE report presented at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations, March 6, 2007
• "Iraqi Police Commit Rape Armed, Trained, and Funded by the U.S." _by Yifat Susskind, www.commondreams.org, Feb. 22, 2007
• Madres Yifat Susskind: The context of the Iraqi rape allegations, Feminist Peace Network
Melinda Tuhus is a producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 40 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at http://www.btlonline.org . This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending March 16, 2007. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.