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3/20/04 - WOMEN IN IRAQ - 2004-03-22

During the signing of Iraq’s interim constitution, Iraqi women marched together. Many spoke publicly for the first time after decades of oppression. In Baghdad’s al-Fardous Square, more than two-hundred women marched. They chanted, “Yes, for equality. Yes, for freedom.” They were supported by a group of Iraqi men. One man said, “This is the first time women have demonstrated freely in Iraq.”

The Iraqi women “are very happy,” says Dr. Rajaa Habib Khuzai, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council and a leader of Iraq’s National Council of Women. Dr. Khuzai says, “in the new Iraq, [women] can participate.” President George W. Bush says that a year after the Saddam Hussein regime was overthrown, “Iraqi women are playing an essential part in rebuilding the nation”:

“Every woman in Iraq is better off because the rape rooms and torture chambers of Saddam Hussein are forever closed. He is a barbaric person. He violated people in such a brutal way that some never thought that the spirit of Iraq could rise again.”

Three women now serve on the Iraqi Governing Council. Council member Rajaa Khuzai led the effort to insure that Iraq’s interim constitution, the Transitional Administration Law, guarantees the basic rights of Iraqi women. Her story will be the first chapter in a new history for a democratic Iraq. The Transitional Administration Law and its bill of rights protect labor unions and political parties and outlaw discrimination based on gender, ethnic group, or religion. President Bush calls the interim constitution “an amazing document”:

“Iraqi women are already using their new political powers to guard against extremism and intolerance in any form, whether it be religious or secular. The women leaders...have shown incredible courage. When you think about what life was like months ago for many women, the fact that they have risen up is a testament to their souls."

Iraqi women have sacrificed much. But, says President Bush, “their sons and daughters will be forever grateful. These leaders have sent a message throughout the Middle East and throughout the world: every man and woman in every culture was born to live in freedom.”