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Survey Reveals Decline in Status of Iraqi Women

From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
http://www.btlonline.org
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Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Oct. 31, 2006

Survey Reveals Decline in Status of Iraqi Women

Interview with Tobey Goldfarb,
researcher at Women for Women International,
conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Listen in RealAudio:
http://www.btlonline.org/2008/ram/goldfarb040408.ram

Women for Women International works with women survivors of war, civil strife and other conflicts. In 2004, the organization surveyed 1,000 women in Iraq and found that 90 percent of them were optimistic about the future. Women for Women has just published a follow-up report on Iraq in conjunction with the NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq, which surveyed 1,500 of the most marginalized women in the country -- those who have been adversely affected by the war and are in desperate need of services.

The latest survey conducted in the fifth year of the Iraq war found just 27 percent expressing optimism about the future. Two-thirds said violence against women is increasing, while 70 percent said their families are unable to earn enough money to pay for daily necessities. Almost 90 percent of the women surveyed said the divisions in Iraq along religious and sectarian lines have had a negative impact on the country.

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Tobey Goldfarb, a researcher with Women for Women International and author of the 2008 Iraq report, part of the group's Stronger Women, Stronger Nations report series. She summarizes the survey's findings and the impact the U.S invasion has had on Iraqi women.

TOBEY GOLDFARB: One of the highlights of the 2004 survey was there was tremendous optimism for the future, there was a window of opportunity and a lot of promise for the future. What we found when we went back was that a lot of the promises that had been made hadn’t really been delivered on, and women are still hungry; they still don’t have jobs; they still don’t have water; there’s still not enough electricity. And so, a lot of that optimism from 2004 had evaporated – had evaporated at the time we did the survey in the fall, so it went from more than 90 percent are optimistic about the future to only 26.9 percent of the women think that things will be better in the next year. And since the fall there have been some improvements in security, depending on who you talk to, and there are pockets of optimism throughout the country, and things may very well be on a slow ascent there; it just a matter of seeing whether these pockets of improvement and optimism are sustainable and will take hold and start spreading.

BETWEEN THE LINES: This survey was done in the fall of 2007, and that’s when Gen. Petraeus made his report to Congress that the surge had improved security and President Bush has been saying that. But your survey indicates that two-thirds of respondents say the presence of U.S. troops is making the security situation worse, and more than two-thirds say their ability to walk down the street as they please has gotten worse since the U.S. invasion.

TOBEY GOLDFARB: Yeah, and that’s what we found, and that’s why we feel there’s a disconnect between what the president is saying and what the women we talked to are saying. So there’s the president of the U.S. saying one thing, with one agenda, and then there’s the Iraqi women in the country saying another thing.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Tobey Goldfarb, I know one always has to preface any comment about Saddam Hussein by saying what a monster he was, but in fact, women were better off under his rule than they are now, regarding education, jobs, personal freedom, right?

TOBEY GOLDFARB: It wasn’t that women were better off under Saddam Hussein -- because things were not excellent for women -- but I would say that pre-Saddam Hussein that women’s status in Iraq was a model for the region. And they did have a lot of personal freedom -- they could be doctors, they could be lawyers, they could really move about however they wanted, and things were relatively good, and they had relative autonomy. And then there was backslide under Saddam Hussein, and then since Saddam Hussein, things have only gotten worse, because the security situation is so bad that women feel like they can’t leave their homes, they can’t get jobs, there are no jobs, things are terrible.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Well, Saddam was in power for almost 25 years, and I know under his secular rule, women were better off in Iraq than other countries in the region. But in the later years of his reign, in an effort to bolster his support among religious leaders, he did start limiting women’s freedom. But now in the current situation, what can you say about any differences between women’s equality in theory under the new Constitution and the reality of their experience on the ground?

TOBEY GOLDFARB: In the constitution it’ll say, you know, equal rights for everybody, but when it comes down to it, there are specifically family law provisions, like the rules covering child custody and divorce and maybe property ownership that are not spelled out explicitly at the national level, and they’re left open to interpretation at the local courts, so if there are conservative judges or imams or people with a more conservative agenda than what’s set out on paper at the national level, then they’re free to interpret reality for women. So they can make a decision on interpretation at the local level that really restricts women’s rights, even though the national constitution will say everyone’s equal, but they can’t make any law that contradicts Sharia law, and that’s really the area of concern for a lot of people. If there is this rise in conservative, religious rule, especially in some of these rural areas, then it’s not safe for women to go out of their house without their heads being covered. It’s not safe for them to go out in western clothing, and they’ll be attacked. It’s not safe for them to drive down the street; it’s not safe for them to do a lot of these things, there’s violent repercussions for that.

Women for Women International works in several countries around the world to give marginalized women the knowledge, skills and resources to move from victim to survivor to active citizen. Visit the group's website at www.womenforwomen.org or call (202) 737-7705 to obtain a copy of the group's Iraq report.

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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 April 4, 2008. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.

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