The saddest part of the story is the lost memory of what Iraqi women once were. I grew up in Baghdad with a working mother who drove herself to the office and always told me that I could anything I wanted with my life. My mother’s friends were factory managers, artists, principals and doctors.
It has been just over 20 years since I left Iraq. Today, female college students ask me if it is true that the streets of Baghdad were once full of women driving, that women could walk around in public at all times of the day without worry, that university campuses were once filled with women who did not wearing headscarves. –Zainab Salbi
Yesterday marked the 10-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. In the media, there’s much discussion about the impact of the war on America’s economy, politics and veterans, as there should be. But the war’s impact on Iraqi people and especially Iraqi women has received scant attention.
Though Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator (whom the United States was happy to support), he and his Ba’ath Party advanced women’s rights. The Constitution drafted in 1970 guaranteed women the right to vote, attend school, own property and run for political office. The Personal Status Law, enacted in 1958, gave women equal rights to divorce and to inherit property, restricted polygamy, and prohibited marriages under age 18. But the new Iraqi Constitution replaced these status laws with an article stating that “Islam is the official religion of the state and is a basic source of legislation” and that ”No law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed rules of Islam.” Thus, the delineation of women’s rights is in the hands of religious leaders. As Hillary Clinton has explained, “Now, what we see happening in Iraq is the governing council attempting to shift large parts of civil law into religious jurisdiction.” In the words of Iraqi feminist Yanar Mohammed, “We used to have a government that was almost secular. It had one dictator…Now we have almost 60 dictators—Islamists who think of women as forces of evil. This is what is called the democratization of Iraq.” […]