Babylon & Beyond

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IRAQ: A woman's place in politics

February 20, 2008 | 12:29 pm


The Iraqi national parliament has its share of outspoken female representatives. But in the fiercely tribal farming region southeast of Baghdad, the rough and tumble of politics is still considered a man’s domain.

U.S. soldiers in the region were used to hearing men tell their female counterparts on the local councils to keep quiet during meetings. But they were taken aback when Hawr Rajab’s first representative for women’s affairs announced that she would not attend council meetings at all. She preferred to form a parallel women’s council, which meets weekly at her home.

"I’m sorry," said the veiled woman in a long corduroy skirt and matching jacket. "Men speak very loudly and they fight."

The soldiers were impressed with how quickly the women came up with proposals to help the many left widowed and orphaned from fighting during the nearly three years that Sunni Muslim militants had dominated the town. But they worried that the women would miss out on important information conveyed at the men’s meetings.

The chairwoman was ready with a solution. Her husband would attend in her place and relay what happened. At the next town council, he was there, diligently scribbling notes on a yellow manila pad — the only representative who bothered to record the proceedings.

— Alexandra Zavis in Hawr Rajab, Iraq

Photo: Iraqi women line up to buy rationed cooking oil on Feb. 9 in the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad, Iraq. Credit: AP Photo/Loay Hameed