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Story Publication logo March 27, 2009

Women's Challenges in Iraq and Beyond


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"Iraq: Death of a Nation" examines how the U.S. invasion and occupation created a multi-faceted...

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Multiple Authors

What was it like working as a female reporter in Iraq?

As a female journalist working in Iraq I face all sorts of difficulties in terms of the conservative society against women, in terms of working in a men's field and also working for international organizations and outlets or any sort of international or foreign company. While I did my work I was all the time more than men accused of collaborating with the occupier, with being loose, with not being conservative. And even though I had to put on this scarf I still had to act in a very conservative way.

For example if I go out with a male journalist for a translation or to help with reporting I had to be extra careful and extra aware that this society is against women and I'm working in men's field.

Other difficulties were having to be in a place where it is only men hanging out or only men talking. In many cases I would go with a reporter to do the reporting and the translation and I would be asked to go and hang out with the woman in the kitchen while the men would be just sitting there. The reporter would be filming or interviewing everybody with the very little Arabic they have or with out any translation.

Of course Mosques for example, I was not allowed to get into the space where men are.

Having to interview an official was the hardest part. You had to be nice but also you could not be very comfortable in terms of interviewing the person. A lot of the time I was asked very personal questions such as "Are you married?" "Where do you hang out?" "Can we go out for a dinner?" and things like that. It was very hard to be a woman reporting in Iraq.

What kind of career did you imagine yourself doing when you were growing up?
Growing up in Iraq of course I did not imagine myself to be a reporter or a journalist or do any work with media organizations. I always wanted to be a doctor when I was a kid. Of course in Iraq you needed a lot of money and privileges and time to sit and study. I was the oldest among six other siblings and father and mother and thus I had to be responsible for a lot of work at home, taking care of my siblings. That was kind of an obstacle I had to face.

I couldn't be a doctor so I decided to study English instead. When I was in 5th grade I was very good in English and my teacher encouraged me to keep studying and keep focusing on the English language. In college I studied English and now I am practicing it. I started as a translator and then by training I became a reporter and now here I am, a journalist working from the United States working on issues related to my country, Iraq.

How were women and children targeted in the violence that occurred after the US occupation?

Women and children under the U.S. occupation of Iraq were indirectly targeted. Most of their men either did not have jobs or were put in prisons or mistakenly arrested or accused of being insurgents and of course that directly affects families, women and children.

And because Iraq is a country where women don't always work and provide necessities, then if the man (or the father) went to prison, the family would be left alone. The children would leave school and have to go and find work so they can provide food for the family. Of course that means if they don't go to school they won't be educated.

In most cases if the mother decides that she needs to send her child to school she'll have to find an alternative. And in many cases that would be the woman going and getting involved in prostitution and other illegal acts such as stealing or even getting involved in insurgency acts.

And of course if the father is not around there will not be any care or any assistance or any supervision for the children from the male figure in the family.

How has the situation for women in Iraq changed since the US occupation? (what's better? what's worse?)

After the U.S. occupation of Iraq the situation for woman changed for the better. For a while, for the first few months, you could see them being free, being able to go and get jobs with the US forces as translators or just apply for jobs. You saw more women working in journalism and for other companies. In terms of the way they dressed, they were freer. But after a while that changed and woman become the most targeted people in the country.

When the Iraqi government came it was religious and it was conservative and they imposed a lot of restrictions. Most of the ministries were led by religious figures and they recruited their own militias such as the Mehdi Army and the Battle Brigade Militia who worked at the ministry of interior and the ministry of defense. Of course they imposed their own restrictions on women, they were forced to dress in certain ways they were forced to act in certain ways.

I have my own personal experience. My sister has never been in a scarf before. As soon as she wanted to apply for a job that was the first thing she had to consider. So she put on a veil and she put on a scarf and had to be conservative. She could not put on trousers as that was also restricted and not allowed. Her friends her colleagues were fired because they did not want to comply with the militia and with the militia office's policies.

That is the situation. It crucially changed for women. They were more restricted, and they were targeted, especially in the south when they did not comply with militias imposed acts, there they were targeted and killed.

What kind of things would help strengthen women's role in Iraqi society?

I strongly feel that the only thing that would strengthen the role of woman in Iraqi society and Iraq in general is the women's motives themselves. We do have several members of parliament and also some ministers and high position women. However, they are religious, they do believe that woman should be restricted, should be veiled covered and not work in men's fields. Of course that is the whole point. If you have the legal woman that believes in such things the role of women would be no different than these (current) leaders' policies.

So unless that changes, unless we put women in leaderships where they do believe in woman's freedom and equality, unless we have men and women collaborate and coordinate among themselves to believe that women should have a role in this society, I don't think anything will change.

From my own experience, I went to do an interview with a (female) member of parliament. She's of course religious and with the government. When I asked her about the role of women and men, should men for example be able to hit women or to mistreat women she said "Yes" a man is allowed to hit his wife if he does not leave a sign. That is OK. That is one simple example.

We do have a very few powerful women who do believe in woman's freedom. However they don't have that much to control and they don't have a lot of control over politicians' decisions so they are just there. Just in the picture to represent the democratic Iraq when in fact, women are very restricted and not free in their movement.


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