Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Women as Barometer of Success, Stability from Iraq to Afghanistan

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Women as Barometer of Success, Stability from Iraq to Afghanistan

Article excerpt

Panelists at a Sept. 27 event at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington, DC discussed the struggle women face as they try to play an active role in civil society in war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan, where their accomplishments are key indicators of the success or failure of stabilization and reconstruction efforts. Panelists Isobel Coleman, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Manal Omar, USIP's director of Iraq Programs, discussed the issue. Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, deputy director of the Council on Foreign Relations' Women and Foreign Policy Program moderated the panel, and USIP's Gender Adviser Kathleen Kuehnast introduced the panelists.

Too often the international community and local leaders have said "not now" when it comes to placing women's rights on the reconstruction agenda. Women's rights and other issues of concern to women are often tabled in order to focus resources on concerns like stability, security and infrastructure. However, "not now" often becomes "too late," as policies are put in place without women's input.

In her book Paradise Beneath Her Feet, Coleman paints a vivid picture of the status of women's rights in the Middle East and highlights the transformative role women are playing in the region. She got the idea for her book, Coleman said, after meeting Iraqi women leaders and activists in Washington, DC in 2005. When she asked the women what they thought about Islamic law being included in the Iraqi constitution, the mostly secular women replied that they believed the constitution would not include shariah law. However, according to Coleman, the constitutions of both Iraq and Afghanistan now state that any laws passed or enforced by the government cannot contradict shariah law.

Feminism and women's rights often are seen as Western concepts by religiously conservative Muslim women. Others in the region are embracing Islam and using it as a way to promote women's rights, affect change and work together across the religious-secular divide.

Omar's poignant book Barefoot in Baghdad (available from the AET Book Club) details her experiences as an American aid worker of Arab descent working in Iraq between 2003 and 2005. …

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