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It was better under Saddam

Tuesday 25 Mar, 2008

Iraqi women say they are worse off now than they were during the rule of dictator Saddam Hussein and that their plight has deteriorated year by year since the US-led invasion in March 2003. “Before the 2003 invasion it was possible for a woman to lead a normal life as long as she followed state policy,” said Shameran Marugi, head of the non-governmental organisation Iraqi Women’s Committee.

“It was even possible for a woman to engage in political and economic activities through the official Union of Iraqi Women,” added Marugi. “When the regime change occurred... there was no qualified leadership to handle the situation and society was not equipped to deal with the changes.”

The Union of Iraqi Women was dismantled after the invasion as it was affiliated to the Baath Party of Saddam and in the past few years, Marugi said, violence against women has increased significantly. “At home a woman faces violence from her father, husband, brother and even from her son. It has become a new culture in the society,” said the women’s rights campaigner.

Women are subjected to verbal abuse on the streets if they are not wearing a hijab and in extreme cases face being abducted by gun-men, who sexually abuse and then kill them. “It has also become normal for women to receive death threats... for not wearing a hijab or not dressing ‘decently’,” said Marugi.

Although there are no nationwide official figures available, rights activists report numerous cases of so-called “honour killings” in the southern city of Basra, in the northern Kurdish area and in Baghdad. A report by the US-based Women For Women International released earlier this month said the state of Iraqi women has become a “national crisis” since the March 2003 US-led invasion.

It said 64 per cent of the women surveyed complained that violence against them had increased. The report also found that 76 per cent of the women interviewed said that girls in their families were forbidden from attending school.

Selma Jabu, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s consultant for women’s affairs, admitted that apart from being sidelined politically Iraqi women are subjected to abuse and intimidation on the streets and face violent sexual abuse.

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