Iraq: Saddam wasn't a feminist

Some radical feminists and anti-war liberals have very short memories. It’s just three years after Saddam Hussein’s ouster and some would have us believe the tyrant was in fact a protector of women’s rights in Iraq. That Iraq under Saddam actually had progressive, pro-women policies that are now being “rolled back” thanks to the Bush administration.

…In a complex society like Iraq’s, with its labyrinthine political and social development over the past 40 years, it is foolhardy to make simplistic comparisons based on a mere three years of post-Saddam liberation. Still, it is worth setting the record straight on how women really fared under the rule of this allegedly “benign” dictatorship. Revisionist history-writing must not prevail.

…After the Gulf War–particularly after crushing the Shiite and Kurdish uprisings of 1991–Saddam reverted to tribal and “Islamic” traditions as a means to consolidate power. Iraqi women paid the heaviest price for his new-found piety. Many women were removed from government jobs and were not allowed to travel without the permission of a male relative. Men were exempted from punishment for “honor” killings–killings carried out on female relatives who had supposedly “shamed” their family. An estimated 4,000 women died from honor killings in the ensuing years. By 2000, Iraqi women, once considered the most highly educated in the Middle East, had literacy levels of only 23%.

…The political participation of Iraqi women is a critical component in building a stable democracy in Iraq that respects human rights. So here, at the Independent Women’s Forum, we’ve launched the Iraqi Women’s Democracy Initiative which trained over 150 pro-democracy women from every region, ethnicity and religion in Iraq in areas such as good governance, rule of law, civil society and the pillars of democracy. We had the privilege of working with many extraordinary women who went on to become members of parliament, ministers, local officials and key leaders in civil society organizations. We’re also building the capacity of women-led non-governmental organizations in South Central and Southern Iraq through a small grant program, technical assistance and skills training. Hopefully, the brave Iraqi women who once suffered under Saddam can now freely promote change within their own society.