Candidates promise to promote women’s rights

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Despite the many challenges women face in Iraqi male-dominated society, Nissan Al Salhy is determined to pursue a political career.

The Arabic teacher from the southern province of Dhi Qar is vying for a seat in parliament in Sunday’s national elections, joining a new generation of young women seeking a powerful role in politics for the first time in their lives.

The 2018 smear campaigns were one of the reasons for the current decline in the number of women candidates

Hanaa Edwar, human rights activist

Since the 2003 US invasion that overthrew Saddam Hussein’s regime, “the situation for women in Iraq has been very bad,” said Ms. Al Salhy, 45. The National on her way to an event to talk to voters.

“They are under tremendous pressure in a traditionally male-dominated society, whether they are strong or not,” she said.

Candidates in Sunday’s election said they would strive to bring women’s issues to the fore in a country where women’s rights are eroded. They say they’re not put off by the challenges they face, including cyberbullying and harassment.

There are 951 female candidates registered to compete for 83 seats reserved for women in the 329-seat parliament. Women represent nearly 30% of the total number of candidates running, 3,249.

According to the country’s constitution and electoral law, the representation of women in parliament should not be less than 25%. Political parties are also required to have candidate lists on which at least a quarter of the candidates are women.

In October 2019, Ms. Al Salhy joined thousands of frustrated Iraqis who took to the streets of major cities in central and southern Iraq, demanding a better life and an overhaul of the dysfunctional political system in place since 2003.

Today she is running with one of the main newly founded parties in the Shiite heart, Imtidad, led by prominent activists.

“Women [in Iraq] need everything, ”the mother-of-one said. “There are a large number of widows and divorced women, in addition to girls, looking for employment opportunities.

“I believe the simplest thing a woman needs is an institution to take care of her.”

She envisions the creation of a government-funded institution to fund small business projects for women, such as sewing and embroidery workshops or beauty salons, and to offer financial assistance to those who cannot work. .

Dressed in a black abaya, she visited remote farming communities, speaking to voters about her platform. Her husband and two brothers accompanied her.

A familiar face to the protest movement, she found support from locals who participated in the protests, even in more conservative farming areas where meetings were held separately for women and men.

However, she has had some of her posters torn and has been abused online.

Despite efforts to address gender inequality since 2003, the situation of Iraqi women has continued to deteriorate. The situation has been exacerbated by the rise of Islamists and the weakness of successive governments which have allowed laws based on tribal tradition and customs to prevail.

A bill that criminalizes domestic violence was dropped in parliament after facing strong resistance from Islamist politicians who viewed it as opposed to Islam.

Islamist parties, however, did not push forward a controversial law that would have allowed girls to marry as young as nine and give a husband the right to have sex with his wife, for her to consent. or not.

In 2019, Islamists submitted a proposal to amend the 1959 Personal Status Act to favor fathers and grandfathers over mothers when it comes to child custody.

Candidate Dahaa Al Rawi says one of her priorities is to encourage other women in parliament to form their own bloc.

“As there are over 80 of us in parliament, we can have a women’s bloc to prevent parliament from voting on any law considered to be against women,” said Ms. Al Rawi, 63. The National during one of his electoral rallies in Baghdad.

Ms. Al Rawi says she will push to increase the number of women in government positions and even to have a female prime minister.

“Today a woman faces injustice and is marginalized in politics. We have strong women who can lead ministries or become prime minister, ”she said.

Posters for women candidates were erected in the streets and on buildings of Baghdad and other cities, alongside those of the men.

Some depict veiled faces with abayas while others, without a traditional Islamic headscarf, or hijab, are made up. These latest posters provoked a severe reaction from many.

“There is a big difference between your photo on posters campaigning for parliamentary elections and your photo when you want to participate in The Voice,” famed blogger Salih Al Hamdani, from the conservative town of Karbala, wrote on his Facebook page. .

Smear campaigns

Mr Al Hamdani refers to a TV series aimed at finding talented unsigned singers, in which the winner is determined by viewers.

In the 2018 elections, women candidates represented just over 40% of the total number. Some of them were forced to withdraw amid unprecedented smear campaigns, some of which involved sex videos.

“The 2018 smear campaigns were one of the reasons for the decrease in the number of women candidates today,” said Hanaa Edwar, an Iraqi women’s rights activist. The National.

“What happened then was a message to women to voluntarily withdraw from politics.”

Ms Edwar, founder and chairperson of the Al Amal Association advocacy group, said other challenges women candidates face include lack of financial support for their campaigns. This was particularly the case for independent candidates.

“Without the 25 percent quota, there would be fewer women in parliament,” she said.

Updated: October 9, 2021, 12:46


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