Academic journal article
By Mojab, Shahrzad
The Middle East Journal , Vol. 67, No. 1
Women in Iraq: Past meets Present, by Noga Efrati. 236 pages. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. $45.
Women in Iraq: Past meets Present offers rich historical evidence to help us comprehend the contradictions in the idea of women's "liberation" under conditions of colonialism, war, occupation, or imperialist "democracy." The study is a careful tracing of a century-long struggle by enlightened Iraqi women and men for gender equality - a struggle interrupted by colonial powers and occupation forces in alliance with Iraqi national, religious, and political actors who have continuously benefited from this union. It is the ebb and flow in the battle over women's rights in Iraq that Efrati traces in this book. She argues that the book is "first and foremost a historical work" (p. x) and more specifically a "political history because it deals mainly with the Iraqi political elite and the women's movement under the [British] mandate and the monarchy" (p. xii).
The five chapters are organized to delineate the discourse of constructing Iraqi women as citizens as well as women's contestation of this process since the onset of the British occupation (1918) until the overthrow of the British-backed monarchy (1958), to the formation of the Ba'th regime (1968) and the post-2003 occupation by American forces. However, the core of the book deals with the early 20th century. The first three chapters discuss the process of constructing women as second-class citizens. Chapter one reviews the customary law and the discourse of Tribal Criminal and Civil Disputes Regulation where women were constructed as "tribal possessions rather than a citizen of the emerging state, and their welfare was knowingly sacrificed" (p. 20). "Family Law" is the focus of chapter two, which explores how the British policy of supporting religious leaders created the condition of "subordination" of women (pp. 51-85). Chapter Three is a review of the "disenfranchisement" of women during the Hashemite period when the tension between the state discourse of modernity of ideal educated woman/mother collided with the religious notion of women's lack of competence to participate in public affairs (pp. 86-110). Chapters four and five are devoted to the struggle of Iraqi women over their rights. In Chapter four, Efrati critiques the dominant "historiographical approaches" to women's movement in Iraq (p. 111). She claims that, in these approaches, either the activities of the state-sanctioned Iraqi Women's Union or the underground League for the Defense of Women's Rights have been the subject of analysis. She writes: "My main aim here is to piece together the two narratives to offer a more elaborate portrayal of the evolution of the women's movement in Iraq, from its beginning in the early twentieth century until the end of the Hashemite period" (p. …