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7/9/03 - NEW HOPE FOR IRAQ'S WOMEN - 2003-07-09

The U.S.-led coalition is working to advance the interests and rights of women in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. As Paula Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs, said, "The women of Iraq have a critical role to play in the political and economic revival of their society." Restoring their rights cannot come too soon for Iraq's women. Iraqi law professor Mishkat el Momen says that Iraqi women were devalued, disdained, and discriminated against under Saddam Hussein's regime:

"Iraqi women suffered a lot. First of all there was direct damage. Many Iraqi women lost their husbands and this was very difficult for them. They [had] to raise their children. They [had] to [have] money to raise their children and this wasn't a very easy job."

Some Iraqi women worry that they will not get a government guided by the rule of law which respects the rights of all. The position of the U.S.-led coalition on this issue is clear. In the words of Under Secretary of State Dobriansky, "While we respect Iraq's religious traditions, we will oppose any attempt to create a theocracy that tramples on individual human rights -- women's or men's."

Now that Saddam Hussein is gone, Iraqi women have new hopes and dreams. University student Souded Younis expects women to play an important role:

“I hope I can see a female minister in the government representing Iraqi women. For example, we could have a woman who could run a newspaper and a magazine. We have not heard of these things [before].”

The U.S. is committed to the empowerment of women in Iraq and across the Middle East. The U.S. is launching programs to train female political candidates, fund literacy programs for girls and women, sponsor female entrepreneurs in business exchange programs, and support civil society groups working to empower women. As Under Secretary of State Dobriansky said, “We do not believe that any country can achieve its potential if it disenfranchises or otherwise sidelines half its population.”