Nearly 300 prominent Iraqis selected by the US military met in Iraq on Monday. At the meeting, the delegates agreed to convene a national conference in the next month to create an interim government, according to the Boston Globe. However, only a few Iraqi women attended the meeting, raising concerns that women will not be adequately represented in the rebuilding process. Noeleen Heyzer, executive director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), argued in the Globe that "the perspectives of women offer the best promise of meaningful reconstruction and the development of a working democracy," urging their inclusion in every step of the process of rebuilding their country. Retired US Army General Jay Garner, who is controlling the Pentagon's civil administration in Iraq, has stressed the importance of representation across religious and ethnic groups, but has so far not adequately included women, who make up 55 percent of Iraq's population.
Iraqi women leaders have expressed concern about the US's lack of inclusion of women in the planning for a new Iraq government. In a meeting held on the transition of the government two weeks ago, there were only four women included among the 80 delegates. A February meeting of Iraqi exiles convened in London by the US government included only three women of 65 participants.
Under the repressive regime of Saddam Hussein, women in Iraq still enjoyed more rights than women in many neighboring countries. Women have the right to drive, to attend coeducational college classes, to work outside the home in offices with men, and to inherit property, among other rights, according to the Los Angeles Times. Iraqi women are concerned that under a fundamentalist religious government, they may lose some of these rights. "We need a government that respects Iraqi and Muslim customs, not a strict Islamic rule that would curb women's rights," businesswoman Fadwa Shehab Ahmend told Voice of America. Dr. Shatha Beserani, an Iraqi exile who founded the Iraqi Women for Peace and Democracy Campaign in 2000, says that any new constitution for Iraq must be drafted by a team equally representing men and women, according to the Times of London.
Lesley Abdela, a senior partner in a gender parity and democracy consulting group, points out that the exclusion of women has been a theme in the rebuilding of nations. Writing in the Times of London, she asked, "why is it that in the aftermath of dictatorship and conflict everyone talks about human rights and democracy, yet women find themselves having to fight hard for any voice at all?" United Nations Resolution 1325, passed in 2000, states "clearly that women must be included in all aspects of peacemaking and peace-building discussions. It didn't happen in Afghanistan and so far it doesn't look like it is being implemented in Iraq. The question we should ask is 'Why'?" asked Dr. Krishna Ahooja-Patel, president of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, according to the Times of London.
Media Resources: The Times of London 4/29/03; Boston Globe 4/28/03, 4/29/03; Voice of America 4/27/03; Los Angeles Times 4/28/03