Editorial

Article excerpt

Having arrived at a rather uncharacteristic emphasis upon white middle class women's feminism in this issue, I decided to look at some Iraqi and Arab women's website material to address the incommensurability of the experience of women in Iraq or Afghanistan - greatly aggravated by the foreign policy pursued by Australia's current government's powerful allies - with that of the majority of women in Australia, even those who are not particularly well off. I came across Iraqi exiled novelist Haifa Zangana's report of a phone conversation with her brother just before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. His daughter had a caesarian delivery a month early:

The doctor tried to induce labour but failed.... We had to take the risk because we hear that war is starting in a few days and then there'll be no hospital to take her to. She isn't the only one. Hundreds of women in Baghdad are doing the same thing.

A young woman called Hind comments about the situation now:

First there was the occupation. And this is something unbearable. And now, everything is getting worse. In the past I walked about freely. Now I need someone to be with me at all times for security. I am afraid to go out alone...

As Indian novelist and peace activist Arundhati Roy recalls in relation to the Western invasion of Afghanistan, it was suggested

that the whole point of the war was to topple the Taliban regime and liberate Afghani women from their burqas. We're being asked to believe that the US marines are actually on a feminist mission... Can we bomb our way to a feminist paradise?

Hana Ibrahim, a scholar and human rights activist, comments upon how women were also supposed to benefit from the 'regime change' that removed the highly-secular earlier Iraqi government:

Bush and Rumsfeld claim that they came to Iraq to make women free.

But democracy is not for us, it's for the companies... When there is war the people always lose.

The 1991 Gulf war, 12 years of sanctions, and the 2003 occupation have had devastating effects upon Iraqis. Zangana was imprisoned and tortured by the Baath regime, which was one of the world's most repressive - Law 101, under which (alleged) prostitution was punishable by death, was for example used to execute women dissidents or the female relatives of dissidents. But for her, and many other women commenting on the current situation in Iraq, the Western rhetoric about freedom and democracy as goals of the invasion has no relationship to the situation in which they are living. Back in 1993, UNICEF reported: "Rarely do women in the Arab world enjoy as much power as they do in Iraq ... men and women must receive equal pay for equal work. A wife's income is recognised as independent from her husband's. In 1974 education was made free at all levels and in 1979 made compulsory for girls and boys until the age of 12.' Aisha El-Awady, from Cairo University, notes that Iraqi women had six months maternity leave, and opportunities to work in numerous professions and serve in the army. …