Friday, August 01, 2008


Untold Horror

U.S.-Occupied Iraq: Women suffer untold violence


by: isiria, in political structure, war and violence

The radio news magazine “Between The Lines” interviewed Yifat Susskind, communications director with MADRE, an an international women’s human rights organisation based in New York City. Yifat is also author of a report on violence against Iraqi women titled, “Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy: Gender-Based Violence and the US War on Iraq.” The report, made public on March 6 at a meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations, exposes what it calls “the incidence, causes, and legalization of gender-based violence in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion.”

violence against iraqi womenII.jpgThe situation for Iraqi women since that invasion four years ago has deteriorated dramatically by every measure of daily survival: lack of access to clean water, electricity, food, education and jobs. And, as a result of the absence of personal security, women have virtually disappeared from public life in Iraq - yet their disappearance has been barely noted by media coverage of the war, which is not surprising. Our male dominated societies impose violence on women not just through physical brutality but also in a very silent way that makes womens’ submission almost appear to be natural. Pierre Bourdieu called it ‘a symbolic violence’, “a violence that is hardly noticed, almost invisible for the victims on whom it is perpetrated; a violence which is exercised principally via the purely symbolic channels of communication and knowledge (or, to be accurate, mis-knowledge).” While Iraqi women suffer from rape, torture, abduction and murder, the media, ignoring their plight, exclusively focuses on crazed males on both sides playing deadly war games. And when it counts the dead, it only mentions the combatants; women and children literally are un-accounted for.

According to the report, systematic attacks on women and sectarian cleansing are deeply intertwined. One of the main support mechanisms for the violence is a constitutionally enshrined ‘gender apartheid’. Iraq’s constitution, scripted and enacted under the oversight of the U.S. occupation force, has created Sharia law inspired separate and unequal laws for men and women, purely on the basis of gender. And Sharia law also allows unelected, and in some cases self-appointed, people posing as religious authorities to determine the constitutionality of law, on the basis of sometimes very arbitrary and often quite reactionary interpretations of Islamic law.

violence against iraqi women.jpgWomen, who under Saddam Hussein’s secular regime had a lot of freedom, access to education and a wide range of jobs, are saying across the board that their lives are much, much worse now than they were under the previous regime. For example, in much of Iraq so-called punishment committees of Islamist militias are patrolling the streets and attacking women who don’t dress to their liking. In a lot of places, they kill women who wear pants or appear in public without a head scarf. Most Iraqi women are virtually confined to their homes now, because of the likelihood of being beaten or raped or abducted in the streets. But it’s not only the radical fundamentalists terrorising women; cases are being reported of Sunni women raped by the U.S.-trained and sponsored Shia police. That of course is not surprising, given the U.S’. own terrible record of rape and gender-based torture at Abu Ghraib and other prisons in Iraq.

Finally, the report criticises the media, including the so-called alternative media for not listening to Iraqi women. Their voices have been shut out despite the fact that women comprise, as they do in many countries, over half of Iraq’s population. Listening to their plight would give us a much truer picture of what is really happening in that country, including that women’s human rights and democratic rights really go hand in hand. It would also show that the Bush led administrations of the ‘Coalition of the Willing’, for all their rhetoric, really have contempt for both genuine democracy and women’s rights.

The interview is available in RealAudio or can be accessed on the Between The Lines website.

Further links:

* “Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy: Gender-Based Violence and the US War on Iraq Executive Summary,” MADRE report presented at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations, March 6, 2007
* “Iraqi Police Commit Rape Armed, Trained, and Funded by the U.S.” by Yifat Susskind, www.commondreams.org, Feb. 22, 2007
* Madres Yifat Susskind: The context of the Iraqi rape allegations, Feminist Peace Network


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