BAGHDAD, September 16 (Reuters) – A powerful mix of insecurity and traditional prejudices against more liberal female politicians prevented Awatef Rasheed from running for parliament when she returned to Iraq in 2014 after years abroad.
Seven years later, when Iraq is less volatile, Rasheed has decided to run in the October 10 election for the assembly, even as abuse and intimidation of potential female parliamentarians persists.
Today, she is one of 951 women, representing nearly 30% of the total number of candidates, standing for election to the country’s Council of Representatives, which has 329 seats.
The adoption of a new law on domestic violence and greater representation of women in the executive branch of government are among the goals of some of the future legislators.
For Iraqi women politicians, elections can be an excruciating experience.
Rasheed scrolled through his smartphone and looked at the photos of one of his campaign banners that had been torn apart, the tear precisely crossing the image of his face.
“Out of 38 banners that we put up in my town of Basra, 28 were damaged and four disappeared,” she said.
In 2000, Rasheed fled Saddam Hussein’s regime in Canada, where she began campaigning for the social and political empowerment of women. This led to a career path that she continued after returning to Iraq.
But at the time, “political parties did not readily accept women like me, who have a gender perspective,” she said, adding that her family was also concerned about political violence in Iraq.
Discrimination is still very present, although Iraq introduced measures this year to protect female candidates. They can report violence directly to forensic investigators instead of having to report it to the police first. The Interior Ministry has dedicated hotlines to receive complaints from candidates.
Human rights activist Hanaa Edwar said that in the 2018 elections female candidates faced defamation, slander and threats, abuses that deterred some from running this year.
Edwar had worked to advance women in politics in 2003 after Saddam’s fall, in a campaign that aimed for a gender quota of at least 40% in parliament and government. Finally, a quota was introduced guaranteeing women 25% of parliamentary seats.
Nada al-Jubori, doctor and politician, has been elected to parliament through the gender quota twice since 2005.
“Standing up for women’s issues has never been easy,” Jubori told Reuters from his office in Baghdad’s Adhamiya neighborhood.
She cited years of violence, sectarian strife and tribal pressure as additional challenges for women trying to advance their agendas in parliament.
Religious political parties expect their female members to embrace their predominantly conservative social agenda, she said.
Ola al-Tamimi, 35, an engineer and candidate for the Secular National Awareness Movement, is part of a new generation of women entering politics for the first time. For her, the adoption of a new law on domestic violence is an urgent matter.
“Women remain marginalized and the amount of domestic violence in Iraq is dangerous,” she said. “Passing a law against domestic violence is very important, and it really requires the unity of women.”
Women’s rights activists who have campaigned for a domestic violence law for around 10 years want to introduce shelters for victims of domestic violence and tougher penalties for so-called honor killings, such as the murder of a woman. woman accused of humiliating her family. But the opposition, mainly from religious parties, means that no laws have been passed so far.
Beyond parliament, Jubori wants better representation of women in the executive. In the current government, only three women hold ministerial positions.
According to Jubori, more women should be appointed to leadership positions in public institutions to enable them to gain political capital and visibility over time. “They will have the chance to make themselves better known and increase their resources, so that in future elections we will no longer need the quota.”
Additional Reuters TV reporting in Iraq, edited by William Maclean
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