By Army Spc. Debralee P. Crankshaw
Special to American Forces Press Service
Feb. 18, 2009 - A rash of suicide bombings by women in Iraq in 2008 led officials to create a program to empower Iraqi women by fostering equality and the ensuring their basic human rights are met. The first component of the three-part Women's Initiative Program is to reverse the trend in female suicide bombings, which increased from seven in 2007 to 38 last year, officials said.
"The thought behind it is that the women have lost so many of the men in their families -- fathers, brothers, husbands, friends," said Army Capt. Jennifer Glossinger, Women's Initiative coordinator for the 10th Mountain Division's 413th Civil Affairs Battalion. "What happens to so many is they become very vulnerable, because they don't have many resources. A lot of times they're left with many [children] to take care of. They may not be able to read or write.
"The Women's Initiative looks to fill in the gaps and provide some of those basic needs to mitigate some of those female suicide bombings," she said.
The second part of the initiative is economic development. "Eighty percent of employment comes from the agricultural sector in [the Multinational Division Center area of operations]," Glossinger said. "Seventy percent of that work force is composed of women. Women do just about all of the work."
The initiative works with provincial reconstruction teams and agriculture teams, which can include women's programs at extension centers.
"The extension center's main goal is to create a place where people can come and learn about new technology," Glossinger said. "They can come together and pool their money to buy equipment or work as a team and help strengthen each other."
Glossinger said she also would like to see youth programs and a promotion of literacy at the extension center.
While rural areas are the main focus of the program, the initiative also encourages women in urban areas to obtain grants to start businesses.
The initiative's third area of focus is human rights. One way to ensure these rights is to encourage women to help other women.
"In Dhi Qar there are 12 women lawyers, and they are talking about opening a women's center there and providing legal services to women," Glossinger said.
The initiative's goal is to provide information and support to better assist Iraqi women.
"Our main goal is not to change the culture, but to strengthen what they have in terms of employment and education," Glossinger said. "I think it's important to be realistic in what you focus on. Most of the women in the [Multinational Division Center] area are rural and need the most basic things like jobs and education."
(Army Spc. Debralee P. Crankshaw serves in Multinational Division Center.)