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Iraqi Women Flock to Polls During Election

Mills College Weekly

After years of oppression under Saddam Hussein, for the first time women were able to vote in Iraq and will occupy 25 positions in the government. Both women and men flocked to the polls in historic numbers for the Jan. 30 election.

With the elections there was a sense of “taking back the streets”—regaining women’s rights, if only symbolically.

Some of the strongest images to come out of the election have been photographs of women leaving the polling places holding up purple-stained fingers, a sign of having voted.

While women in Iraq have been historically well-educated in the context of the larger Middle East, they have also been some of the most oppressed citizens in the region. The strings of tyranny are being undone, making way for over 500 non-governmental organizations in Iraq which promise to bring hope and freedom to its female citizens.

Zainab Al-Suwaji, a female human rights activist who ran in this year’s election said that even with the promise this election brings of lessening the restrictions on women, female campaigners have faced threats and violence for criticizing Iraq and its treatment of women.

Politician Bedor Alyassri said that she is receiving threats from people trying to assassinate her. Women running for office in Iraq faced verbal attacks from male campaigners who plan to bring back Resolution 137, which would have allowed men to marry multiple women without going to court. Women already won their fight against the resolution, in December 2003, when it was first proposed.

One female campaigner did everything by phone—that was the only way she could reach women who did not go out into the streets for fear of being killed or harassed.

In an interview with the BBC, Noura, 22, a civil servant, said, “It is now possible to talk freely and to criticize the government.”

Life in Iraq has been grim for women, even for those who do not speak out against the treatment of women. Two hundred women were beheaded by paramilitary group Feyadeen Saddam, and 4,000 stoned to death for tarnishing family honor. Sometimes women are relegated to the home and only allowed outside for religious purposes. But the election brings hope of a brighter future to many of the women in Iraq.