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Iraq, Women's Empowerment and Public Policy

Authored by Dr. Sherifa D. Zuhur. | December 2006

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Many hopeful or promissory statements about women's role in the new Iraq have been made. If we look clearly at the many issues that Iraqi women must deal with, a more sober reality comes into view. The most immediate obstacles to progress are the security and economic situations. The first may be resolved in time, but it has an additional quotient of violent groups that deliberately target women and girls, and a secondary imposition of "Islamic" restrictions over them. This latter issue must be faced throughout the country and depends heavily upon the interpretations of the personal status, penal, and other legal codes as they address women.

Another difficulty in understanding the way that violence and warfare have affected women in Iraq and how they are meeting current challenges is the filtering provided by official, media, or local sources. These also differ in their interpretations of policy formulation on women's issues, and the degree to which one country, Western and powerful, can or should impact development and society in another Arab and Kurdish nation with its Muslim majority. The validity and efficacy of an empowerment campaign is examined here with reference to the views of American policymakers and politicians, Iraqi women and men, and Arab women or nongovernment organizations engaged in transformative projects. While even more thorough critiques can be found, this monograph suggests some, and then concentrates on the legal issues that are and will remain of great concern to women.