Friday, February 25, 2011

William John Cox: Political Upheaval and Women's Rights

Political Upheaval and Women's Rights
By William John Cox

As the youth-led Freedom Movement of 2011 spreads rapidly across the Middle East, one can only wonder what would be happening in Iraq today if the U.S. had not invaded eight years ago.

Might Saddam Hussein have been driven from power by an internal popular uprising – as happened to Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia – without all the death and destruction wrought by George W. Bush’s invasion?

And, what does the overthrow of authoritarian governments – whether in Iraq from the U.S. invasion or in Tunisia from a popular uprising – portend for the rights of women? Will the changes unleash more Islamic fundamentalism and thus worsen the status of women in those countries?

Women’s rights continue to deteriorate in Iraq under the U.S.-installed Shiite government; their status is also threatened by Islamists in Tunisia, which – like Iraq – was long renowned as among the most secular of Arab nations.

It should be noted, too, that the personal liberties of women are under assault in the United States – by Christian fundamentalist politicians. The rise of fundamentalism, whether Islamic or Christian, almost always translates into fewer freedoms for women.

Iraq’s History

Under Iraq’s longtime Ba’athist government led by Saddam Hussein, Iraqi women enjoyed greater freedom than women in most other Arab nations and they played an active role in the political, economic and educational development of the nation.

The 1970 Constitution formally guaranteed equal rights to women and ensured their right to obtain an education, own property, vote and be elected to political offices. Iraq acceded to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1986.

However, at a cost of more than $1 trillion to the U.S. Treasury, President George W. Bush’s “Operation Iraqi Freedom” led to the slaughter of well over 100,000 Iraqis, including thousands of children, and the invasion resulted in women losing many of their previous rights.

After the ouster of Saddam Hussein, President Bush often bragged that now “Iraq is free of rape rooms;” however, his illegal invasion of Iraq not only exposed its women to rape by U.S. soldiers and mercenaries, but rape is increasingly used as a weapon by warring tribal factions, according to evidence gathered by women’s rights organizations.

“Rape is being used in the settling of scores in the sectarian war,” said Besmia Khatib of the Iraqi Women's Network.

While the new Iraqi constitution adopted after the invasion requires that women hold 25 percent of the seats in the parliament, it also provides that no law can contradict the “established rulings of Islam.”

Thus, the personal rights of women are subject to the interpretation of religious leaders, and those rights are being officially curtailed by the Shiite-controlled government.

Iraqi women must now submit to any male authority, including boys as young as 12-years-old, and they are being attacked and murdered for working, dressing "inappropriately" or attending university.

Because Iraq has more than three million widows – a result of Bush’s invasion and earlier wars under Saddam Hussein – sex trafficking has become widespread, as there is little or no opportunity for these women to find other employment.

Today, as the youth-driven Freedom Movement sweeps across the Middle East, it is touching Iraq, too, where freedom demonstrations have drawn thousands of protesters in the cities of Sulaimaniya, Falluja, Nassiriya Province, and Baghdad.

These demonstrations are being suppressed by the Iraqi security forces using U.S. supplied weapons and intimidation tactics, including raids on the office of the Iraqi organization that monitors press freedom.

The U.S. mainstream media and the Obama Administration have been largely silent about the Iraqi demonstrations; however, fair-minded Americans should conclude that, absent the invasion, the young people of Iraq would have been in the forefront of the Freedom Movement of 2011.

If history had taken that course, untold lives would have been spared and vast sums of money could have been spent improving the quality of life rather than destroying Iraqi standards of living. Plus, the United States would today enjoy greater respect from the world for promoting freedom and the rule of law, rather than violating those principles.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

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