Girl Power Advances: New Deal for Afghan and Iraqi Women
If you trust the report released last week by Amnesty International
on "Violence against Women," there is unrelentingly bleak news for
women all over the world. "Violence against women is a cancer
eating away at the core of every society, in every country of the
world," said Irene Kahn, Secretary General of Amnesty
International, as the organization unveiled its "Stop Violence
Against Women Campaign" on March 5. Indeed, judging by the report,
women's lives across the world may be worse now than ever.
Allegedly 1 billion of us have been victims of abuse. That's one
out of every three women alive today.
Obviously, women often do suffer hardships, disease and violence,
in the developing world in particular, but there is much good news
as well. Only, good news does not make the headlines or top of the
evening broadcasts like murder and violence.
Let's look at what is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite
mainly negative press coverage, important progress is being made
for women in those two countries. Following the military ouster of
Afghanistan's insanely oppressive Taliban government in October
2001, the Bush administration made the improvement of Afghan
women's a priority.
The same is now happening in Iraq, where after a year of
liberation from Saddam Hussein, Iraqi women are starting to become
engaged in rebuilding their country. "There is a lot to take pride
in and a lot that is noteworthy in Iraq and in Afghanistan, where
women have played a pivotal role," says Undersecretary of State for
Global Affairs Paula Dobrianski.
In Afghanistan, 23 percent of the delegates in the Loya Jurga
consultative council are women, and the "U.S.-Afghan Women's
Council" is training women to set up production of clothing,
training them in journalism and crucially training mid-wives to
bring down the country's atrocious infant mortality rate.
As for Iraq, the speaker at the State Department on International
Women's Day on Monday, March 8, was Iraq's only female member of
the provisional government, Minister for Public Works, Nesreen
Berwari. "Before April, 9, 2003, we were not allowed to dream," she
said. Today by contrast, Iraqi women can organize themselves.
Iraq's new Transitional Administrative Law, or interim
constitution, which coincidentally was signed on March 8, speaks of
democracy, liberty, democracy and individual rights, including
those of women. It sets a goal of 25 percent participation in the
Iraqi parliament, whenever Iraq gets that far.
Iraq actually has a well-educated female workforce already, due in
part to a dearth of young men, a generation of whom were decimated
in the Iran-Iraq war. Interestingly, Ms. Berwari told me, "The most
difficult part of my job has nothing to do with my gender or my
qualifications, but with the lack of services that existed under
the Saddam regime, the total lack of investment in services, water
She is admirably upbeat and undaunted by the overwhelming job of
rebuilding infrastructure and bringing services to the 70 percent
of Iraq's 25 million people who live in municipalities under her
jurisdiction. As for the security situation, she says that we are
getting the bad news on the micro level, when we ought to be
looking at the good news on the macro level. "Tens of thousands of
children are going to school every day and being taught by
thousands of teachers. Would that happen if their parents were
afraid for their security?"
What we are seeing here is a different set of women's issues coming
to the fore, not just the promotion of abortion or strange new
definitions of "gender," issues that dominate the feminist agenda
of the left. Women's issues can also be about teaching girls to
read and write, and training women to take part in the political
life of their countries. They represent a huge untapped potential,
particularly in Muslim countries. "Today the torture chambers are
gone," said Ms. Berwari. Instead, Iraq is seeing women's self-help
centers spring up.
The larger point is, however, that this is not just about women.
It is not about "women vs. men" or "Venus vs. Mars." It's not just
about the great female "me, me, me," as we have become tiresomely
accustomed to here in the West. The point is that in today's world,
no country can progress and reach its true potential without the
participation the entire population, male and female. When girls
are educated, when women enter the workforce, living standards rise
overall. And when they are allowed to vote and hold public office,
democracy for everyone can thrive.
First appeared in The Washington Times