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.