Women in the New Iraq
I think neocons have been fairly broadly and justifiably criticized by the left for making the silly assumption that once Iraqis were freed from the tyrant Saddam Hussein, they would just naturally gravitate toward some form of liberal democracy, because that is just what people naturally like. Somehow, because we like it, we figure it must be second nature, in the blood, something you just adopt because it’s the right thing to do and you feel right when you do it. Like a bowel movement or something.
But what I don’t think anyone on the left has come to realize is how often they play with precisely the same assumptions, and often fail just as badly as a result, though of course with less deleterious effect. The one that comes to my mind most prominently is the issue of women’s rights. This is a debate I have long internalized when it comes to
And I am shocked, truly shocked and amazed, by the number of people, organizations and institutions who seem to think that the way to achieve women’s rights in some progressive fashion in Iraq is through creating a gender quota in the Parliament because then women will vote for things that are good for women. (I don’t oppose gender quotas, but I do think of them as silly if the goal is to ensure women vote progressively for women’s rights) It is assumed that once you have women in Parliament, then they vote the “right” way on women’s issues and all is solved. Then when that falls flat on its face as anyone who knows anything about
Never mind that Islamist parties put Islamist women on their lists, and reliable and outspoken ones. Never mind that the political Islam movement in Iraq has about as many women supporters as men (women voted too, in high numbers, and the Islamists won overwhelmingly), never mind that many of the initiatives that go precisely against any modern conception of women’s rights come from women, and in some cases receive only casual support within the Islamist camps. (That’s because Islamist men are not quite as obsessed with stopping the progression of women’s issues as Islamist women, and that is saying something.) Somehow, deep down, these women can’t possibly believe these positions, we think, they can’t actually think Islamism is good for them, and so they are being coerced. It is as if it doesn’t matter where the women in question grew up, doesn’t matter what educational system they entered, doesn’t matter what the values of their family were, none of this matters or at most is a troublesome set of impediments you just jump over. Somehow, despite all that they just yearn to be free. You just have to get rid of the coercion and it will all naturally fall into place, whether the daughter of a Najaf cleric or the adopted professional gay couple in
These initiatives have gone about as well as the initial invasion of
When things went so terribly wrong in
How to improve women’s rights in
-A focus on strategies like closing the gender literacy gap that do not create opposition in Islamist camps.
-A women’s caucus of women parliamentary members so that the issues of importance to women receive a frequent and public airing and remain in public view even if the issues won't lead to an agreement on the issues in question.
-Challenging before Iraqi courts regulations that discriminate against women, most prominently the ones that are not based on shari’a at all. (I have a list.)
These are just a few, I’m sure there are others, many better. The first step, however, is to stop imagining that deep in the ovaries of every human being with a double X chromosome is a NOW feminist waiting to emerge.