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Do women make you uncomfortable?

All right, I am new to this blog and new to Britain in general. However, I am not new to writing about Iraq. I wrote my master thesis on the recent amendment to the Iraqi Personal Status Law and before that I was writing about the issue of female genital mutilation in Iraq. The women’s issue in Iraq is something I know.  In studying the amendment made to Iraqi Personal Status Law in the Kurdistan Region, I had to also study the tendencies of women’s issues in the rest of Iraq as well, conducting 6 weeks of fieldwork involving many interviews and observations.

With respect to the position of women in today’s Iraq, you might think you have heard it before, you might think that it is a topic that has been over discussed or too frequently addressed in a simplistic or one sided way because everyone claims Iraqi women are oppressed and need to be saved. You may be right about those points (although not really, at least not according to my findings, but let us leave that for some other time when I can self promote). Had you claimed such things to me, I would engage in a mild debate with you and we would discuss why women’s issues in Iraq are not so one sided. I would not be the slightest bit annoyed. What really disheartens me is when other Iraqis, especially men, seem reluctant to even discuss women’s issues with me or any other woman for that matter. I am not talking about men who live in Iraq, but nice young men living in the West. It is as though I am being inappropriate if I discuss polygamy in Iraq (the topic of my master thesis by the way… oh wow, there you go I managed to promote myself after all), and Allah forbid if I dare discuss female genital mutilation (FGM). “Is that really appropriate talk for when we are enjoying chai?” Hey, similarly aged Iraqi man, when are we NOT enjoying chai? And if FGM is gross, then how do you think I feel when you are talking about the latest terrorist beheading video you watched? How is that appropriate chai talk? Just be quiet, sip your chai and let me inform you of the grueling details of torture that your Iraqi sisters go through so you can help me combat it. I am not just talking about FGM, but women who are denied child support, denied custody of their children, forced out of their homes because their husbands wish to remarry, beaten to a pulp, married off against their will, divorced against their will, raped, sold into prostitution, immolated alive. Do I really need to go on?

I know it is fancy and cool to discuss oil in Iraq or the latest statement from the Prime Minister, but how about our dapper young men in the diaspora get a little more involved in the situation of their Iraqi sisters? Discussing 1,000 year old Islamic theology is immensely cool and scores you major genius points with me, but please direct at least some of your admirable focus on Iraqi women and their fate.  Do you know what happens to women whose husbands are kidnapped or killed by terrorists? If no one is willing to take financial responsibility for them, they are forced into prostitution by their own families. And it is not just young widows, but people our mothers’ age. Think about that next time you feel it is “eyb” (shameful) to discuss Iraqi women.

Haje Keli has a masters degree in religion from the University of Oslo and has worked with NGOs in Iraq and Europe on civil society efforts, women’s issues and education. 

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10 Comments on “Do women make you uncomfortable?”

  1. jnana February 13, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

    I had no idea FGM was an issue in Iraq.

    • Seerwan February 13, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

      To my knowledge, it’s a major issue in Iraqi Kurdistan. About 60-80% of women there undergo it.

      Not an issue in the rest of Iraq, apparently.

      • Haje February 13, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

        Actually cases have been found among the Turkmen of Iraq. And organisations like WADI cannot for safety reasons do extensive research on FGM in the rest of Iraq. So it might be an issue in the “rest of Iraq”. If it happens among Arabs in Egypt who’s to say it doesn’t occur in South and central Iraq.

  2. Sonya Winterberg February 13, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

    Thanks Haje for a very insightful post!

  3. British-Iraqi February 13, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

    Haje – Thanks for discussing such important topics. And by the way I am a British-Iraqi and do feel that it is “Eyb” on the contrary.

    As for your comment “Actually cases have been found among the Turkmen of Iraq. And organisations like WADI cannot for safety reasons do extensive research on FGM in the rest of Iraq. So it might be an issue in the “rest of Iraq”. If it happens among Arabs in Egypt who’s to say it doesn’t occur in South and central Iraq.”

    I can confidently say that it is not an issue (or to be precise, not a wide-spread issue) in some parts of central Iraq and almost the whole of south Iraq. The reason is the “genius points” i.e. Sunni Muslims believe it is compulsory (hence. Kurdistan, Egypt, etc) BUT Shia Muslims vehemently debate whether it is even permissible or not (and many Shia theologians say it must not happen). The issue with male circumcision is completely different though.

    • Ali February 22, 2012 at 10:07 am #

      “The reason is the “genius points” i.e. Sunni Muslims believe it is compulsory (hence. Kurdistan, Egypt, etc).”

      Wrong.

  4. ABS February 13, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

    Thanks for bringing our attention to a subject that admittedly is little discussed or even thought about in Iraqi circles/gatherings but is nonetheless immensely important. We need more info about this to be brought out into the open to raise awareness, then for sure more people will talk about it, and maybe even take some action.

  5. British-Iraqi February 13, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

    …*And by the way I am a British-Iraqi and do **NOT** feel that it is “Eyb” on the contrary.

  6. RS February 14, 2012 at 12:16 am #

    I was going to do my masters thesis on personal stayus law but wasnt able to the field work so I switched – do self promote please, I’d be interested in reading it.

    I was personally taken back by women’s views towards women’s issues during my stint of working in Iraq. My female colleagues casually blamed all women who suffered domestic abuse for their own misery (“they must do something to bring it upon themselves” style arguments). People seemed to submit far too easily to the idea that it’s God’s will that they are treated worse than an animal. Problem is the ladies i the HR camp normally respond by trashing religion which does not help in a religious society. I think we need more female and male muslim scholars who tackle these issues head on and bring about more constructive dialogue and reform. But more importantly, we need the sisters to really believe that the way they are treated is wrong. What men like to chat about when sipping their won’t necessarily help on either front!

  7. Ahmed February 14, 2012 at 7:02 am #

    Certainly not an issue in Arab part of Iraq. I know that a lot of work is being done in the Kurdish part to address it.

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