By Army Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 21, 2009 - Coalition and Iraqi leaders discussed programs to improve Iraqi women's rights and a vision for a more united future during a Women's Initiative Seminar here.
"I want to bring forward studies on women and human rights to be able to live in peace in the country and bring change to some aspects of our society's perspective," Sameera al-Mosawi, board president for the Council of Representative of Women, Family and Children Committee, said at the Jan. 17 seminar. "We want people to believe in this change like America did."
The seminar provided a forum in which Iraqi government and coalition representatives from all levels could openly discuss the challenges facing Iraqi women and possible solutions to overcome those challenges.
"Increased and honest exchanges of information are vital to the development of any plan of action that addresses this seminal Iraqi societal issue," Army Lt. Col. Robert Jones, deputy civil affairs officer for Multinational Corps Iraq, said.
Representatives brought forth ideas for future projects. Mosawi suggested establishing research centers to study women's issues and roles in society. Scientific studies through universities and public agencies would be a powerful tool in uniting people toward a focused vision, she said.
The main hurdle, Mosawi said, is increasing awareness about women's rights. "Society cannot grow unless women participate in culture, and society must realize this through education courses in all levels, both in rural and urban areas," she said.
Representatives discussed using the help of nongovernment agencies, such as small businesses and private companies, to improve education.
In Iraq, only 42 kindergartens are open, 20 of them in Baghdad. Mosawi said these schools are not enough to provide care and education to more than 13 million Iraqi children. Additional schools would result in teaching opportunities for women, and enable mothers to work who otherwise would have to remain at home with their children.
A need exists for women to learn craftsmanship and other skills important in their present economic markets, seminar participants said. Ideally, grants and financial aid would be available to the trainers and the women being trained.
"In my personal opinion, an educated woman is distinguished and stands in a better position among her community of women," Nawal Majid al-Samarrai, minister of state women's affairs, said. "We only need to assist her [to give her] an opportunity."
Many of the projects brought to the table went beyond women's rights. Discussions included opportunities for children, orphans, displaced families and the disabled.
A lack of resources, both human and financial, is a challenge facing future initiatives, participants said.
The biggest hurdle, Samarrai said, is that offices for women's initiatives don't exist in provinces and cities throughout Iraq. They have been limited to inside Baghdad, isolated from the women who need it most in the communities.
Despite the obstacles, Mosawi said, she remains hopeful about the future.
"I'm very optimistic about the vision of Iraq," she said. "I'm optimistic as well that Iraq will develop for the future, and it will be part of the international community and do good for the Iraqi society as a whole."
(Army Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret serves in the Multinational Division Center public affairs office.)