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Leading Iraqi Feminist Yanar Mohammed On the Role Of Women in Occupied Iraq

StoryDecember 30, 2003
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The founding member of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq joins us in our studio to discuss the women’s struggle in Iraq. [includes transcript]

The Los Angeles Times is reporting today that a Syrian firm with ties to Syria’s president signed contracts to supply millions of dollars in arms and equipment to Iraq before the U.S. invasion.

The company, SES International, was headed by a cousin of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The firm reportedly sold Iraq 1,000 heavy machine guns and up to 20 million bullets for assault rifles.

The Times also found that a Polish company sent nearly 400 surface-to-air missile engines to Baghdad through Syria. A South Korea firm shipped $8 million in telecommunications equipment.

Well today we are going to turn to another story in Iraq that has received little attention: the role of women during the occupation and reconstruction.

We recently spoke to Yanar Mohammed in our Firehouse Studios.

She is the Director of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, a group that works to stop atrocities against Iraqi women and defend their rights. The group is starting a battered women’s shelter in Baghdad to protect women. She also serves as the Editor in Chief of the newspaper Al-Mousawat which stands for “Equality.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We recently spoke to Yanar Mohammad here in our Firehouse Studios, director of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq. A group that works to stop atrocities against Iraqi women and defend their rights. The group is starting a battered women’s shelter in Bagdhad to protect women. She also serves as editor and chief of the newspaper “Al-Masawat.” which stands for equality. Today we bring you the first excerpt of the interview.

YANAR MOHAMMAD: The story that does not reach this part of the world is how the women are treated in post-war Iraq. What happen to us, how our —lets say destinies were totally devastated by this war. What is told to everybody is that we got rid of a bloody dictator, which is a true story, but the part that nobody knows about is that we did have sort of a secure life. We did have our jobs. We did have some stability that we totally lost with the first day of the war. Now, every hour, your everyday life has abductions for women. We cannot go out in the streets safely. We are immediately a moving target on the streets, and we qualify for a kidnappings for rape and for killing, just because we are women. And, on top of all of that, what the coalition did was hand over part of the authorities to religious fundamentalists that turned our lives to push us hundreds of years back in time. We are pushed back to the spot where my grandmother was and that’s not where we want to be. Women in Iraq have been educated they have had access to work for more than half a century now. It’s thing that we will not do without anymore. They go into our schools now. They force the women into veil and, you look at the streets. The women are not safe to be out in the streets. This is our reality in the post-war Iraq. And these are the freedoms and the democracy that we testify now in baghdad.

AMY GOODMAN: What kind of participation do you have in any kind of governance?

YANAR MOHAMMAD: I try to be part of the women’s conferences that the coalition supervised, and they said that they want to make the voices of the Iraqi women heard, but I was surprised that because I was having demands of equality between women and men of a constitution, that we become secular, that was based on this equality, I was rejected in the conference. When I went to the coalition asking for support for women’s organizations, for a first women’s shelter in Baghdad, I reminded them of the responsibilities to keep the securities for women on the street, I had very set demands, and all I found was deaf ears, nobody who was willing to respond in any way, and for the financial support, they told me “You can go talk to N.G.O.’s.”. When I reminded them this is more than half of the Iraqi population i’m talking about and the resources should be directed to us before anywhere else, I was told these are the emails of the N.G.O.’s. You it can talk to them, they are very good in that.

AMY GOODMAN: Who is they that told you this.

YANAR MOHAMMAD: I met top officials. One of them was Steven Spears, he was the first consultant for the Future Ministry of Social Affairs, Labor and Social Affairs. And he was supposed to be responsible for whatever programs are for women. And I did ask him, I told him, look, if you claim that you are bringing us democracy to Iraq, American democracy, how about you give us some of the democracy that was gained by the working class of America, the achievements that they had here, the feminists, what they got in America. for example, the social instruments, the benefits. that’s what we need in Baghdad, and in Iraq right now. Especially because this war had made millions of people jobless and they have no source of income, and let’s talk about the hundreds of thousands of widows who have children and no source of income. How are they supposed to survive one more day, after 13 years of sanctions, and two of the most fierce wars. They need, let’s say, at a minimum of an emergency fee right away to be able to survive. He looked at me and he made a presentation of how tired he was because he has left his family back home and how much effort was putting into setting up a government that could take some time. After setting up the government, they’ll make a census from north to south in Iraq and then they will decide who gets the benefits and the social instrument as to. Then he looked at me and he said, “Did you have social insurance in Saddam’s times?” That was a surprise for me. I told him, are you trying to equal Saddam’s, The Ba’ath regimes times for us. Is that what you are trying to do here? He was pissed off with the whole thing that I was asking for, and his final announcement was you are here to collaborate or confront? So, you know, the women’s groups in Iraq, people would think that all of the world is looking at us and everybody wants to help, but I knocked all doors in order to get help, and I did not get any.

AMY GOODMAN: Yanar Mohammad speaking to us in our Firehouse studios. Director of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq. That does it for today’s program. We’ll play the second part of that interview in the coming days.

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