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The Future For Iraqi Women


Iraq's newly elected transitional national assembly is preparing to begin the work of writing a constitution. The assembly includes representatives with diverse views from Iraq's various political, ethnic, and religious groups. The diversity of opinion carries over to Iraqi women, who hold eighty-seven of the two-hundred-seventy-five national assembly seats.

Some of the women members are secular, and they are urging a broad range of rights for women. Others want Iraq to follow strict Islamic law. Among other things, that would mean giving men permission to have up to four wives and restricting a woman's property rights.

The Shi'ite women "want to hinder [a] woman, put shackles on her," says Songul Chapuk Omer, an Iraqi ethnic Turkmen and a member of the national assembly. "They despise secular women," she said. "They consider that she has committed crimes."

Shatha al-Musawi is in a coalition of political parties known as the Shi'ite alliance. She says that she is "not a feminist. . . .I don't want to commit the same mistakes Western women have committed. . . .[the] family should be the major principle for women here."

Not all Iraqi Shi'ite women agree. Azhar Ramadan Rahim, also a national assembly member, said that "rules written one-thousand-four-hundred years ago cannot be applied now." Shatha al-Musawi responds, "Some secular women had a very negative view of Islam and didn't give us a chance to explain [it]. Now that we have a chance to discuss it," she says, "we can reach a middle point."

The debate over the future rights and roles of Iraqi women will no doubt continue. President George W. Bush says, "The Iraqis have shown that the spirit of compromise has survived more than three decades of dictatorship":

"They will [The Iraqis] need that spirit in the weeks and months ahead, as they continue the hard work of building their democracy."

"The advance of women's rights and the advance of liberty are ultimately inseparable," says President Bush. Today, he said, "We're seeing women take their rightful place in societies that were once incredibly oppressive and closed. We're seeing the power and appeal of liberty in every single culture." And says President Bush, "Iraqi women are playing an essential part in rebuilding the nation. They're part of the future of the country."

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government.

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