War on Terrorism

Monday, November 30, 2009

Program Aims to Improve Iraqi Women's Lives

By U.S. Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service

Nov. 30, 2009 - As Iraq rebuilds its economy, many Iraqi women are looking to be recognized as working equals, according to a U.S. military officer posted in Iraq. "As far as a glass ceiling, that idea is very much a Western process. That doesn't exist here yet due to the cultural differences of Iraq and their religion," Army Maj. Elba D'asaro, Multinational Forces-Iraq Chief of Women's Initiatives Program, told bloggers during a DoDLive Bloggers Roundtable Nov. 25.

In Islamic tradition, women's status is higher at home than in the workplace, D'asaro said. In Iraq, she said, women are traditionally expected to bear children to continue the family line, which is viewed as more important than employment.

D'asaro said she understands the situation of Iraqi women as the country transforms from Saddam Hussein's Batthist's party regime to the current Sharia law.

Iraqi women "don't want to be restrained from getting work, getting employment, getting heard and also helping their country [improve]," she said.

Ray, an Iraqi linguist who prefers his last name not be used for security reasons, accompanied D'asaro at the roundtable. There has been a reversal in women's rights in Iraq, he said, as compared to the social situation during the 1950s.

"In the '50s, women could be elected to political position; since about 1980 there's been a reversal in progress for women in Iraq," he said.

Ray left Iraq in the late 1970s at 25. Today, he said, some women are not allowed to shake hands with men due to religious interpretations.

And, he said, some terrorist groups today are trying to mock the idea of women as equal to men, and are seeking women to use violence against other women.

Some Iraqi women, Ray said, are so discouraged about their social and economical situations that they've developed feelings of hopelessness. "They are easy targets of being recruited by terrorist groups because they have nothing to look for," he said.

Iraqi women can achieve more upward mobility, Ray said, if the Iraqi government provides financial resources to help women find jobs.

As U.S. forces approach the official drawdown in August, D'asaro said, Iraq's future is ultimately in the hands of their government. "They have to step in and help themselves. And we've helped them with the tools. We've showed them how," she said.

Improving the rights and quality of life of Iraq's women, D'asaro said, will be accomplished one step at a time. "We just need to support the government of Iraq, the ministries ... especially women," she said.

(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg is assigned to Defense Media Activity's Emerging Media Directorate.)

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