We’re having a baby…?

by Yule Heibel on May 6, 2003

Thomas Friedman writes in his May 4 NY Times editorial that America “has assumed responsibility for rebuilding Iraq,” and he compares the task to adopting a baby named Baghdad. I just know that Mr. Friedman is a great dad because several months ago I heard him use the expression, “Well, up your nose with a rubber hose,” during an interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. But, uhm, it takes more than men to make babies, and I know it’s just a metaphor for Friedman, but maybe this is a good time to reiterate a point made weeks ago already by feminists and journalists. Namely: where are the women in the rebuilding of Iraq? On April 19, the Toronto Star’s Michele Landsberg wrote a column entitled, Iraqi women are conspicuous by their absence, noting that the “American conquerors have obviously not given a moment’s thought to Resolution 1325 of the Security Council, which demanded that women be present at the highest decision-making levels in every situation of peacemaking and post-war reconstruction.” While Iraqi women had significant freedoms under Saddam Hussein, they were also pawns that Saddam used to placate Islamist extremists. In ’91, Landsberg writes, Saddam “tried to curry favour with Islamists by passing a law permitting ‘honour killing’: Any man had the right to kill his sister, mother, wife or daughter if she threatened to besmirch his almighty honour.” Read her article and you’ll see that horror stories abound, but so, too, do the women who fought against this oppression, both inside Iraq and outside its borders. Female Iraqi leaders exist, but they are nowhere to be seen in the “reconstruction.”

Meanwhile, there are also women who didn’t suffer directly from the oppressive reach of fundamentalist law, who instead prospered and thrived under Saddam’s modernization of Iraqi society. Under changes made by Saddam, women gained many more rights than their sisters in neighbouring Arab countries. This in turn has created a pool of Saddam loyalists — women who are now cut out of the public discourse, but who represent a potential social cancer. According to an AlterNet article by Chris Johnson, Female Fedayeen, military training camps for women were “the norm” during Saddam’s era, and “thousands of female students regularly trained with army units during their summer school holidays.” One family talks proudly of their involvement with an all-girl unit of the Jaishil Kodus, “a local branch of the Jerusalem Brigade of Islamic Jihad, a Palestine-based terrorist group wanted by the Bush administration.” The girls in the family, their friends, and their female relatives say that they are willing to blow themselves up in a terrorist struggle to get rid of …Americans?, Americans first, but then next whoever their fundamentalist leaders identify as a target?

It seems wildly foolish to reach, given these social conditions, for a reconstruction that apparently excludes women totally. Women must be heard here, not just by men, but by other women, too. A public space has to be created where women can talk to each other — the female fedayeen to the western-style women’s rights activist and vice versa — and where they can also talk to men as equals so that they won’t be pushed back behind domestic walls and religious laws. Maybe then we can talk about having a baby.

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