Saturday, June 17, 2006

Women Under Saddam Revisited

In response to my June 4th post on the nature of our adversary in Iraq, commenter JasonM posted the following:

What Durant didn't quote from the article:
"But under the dictatorial rule of Saddam Hussein, Iraqi women were among the most liberated in the Arab world. “My friends at university, my neighbours — they’re all in the same situation as me,” Noor mourned.

The article in question, from the Sunday Times, is here. While the article provides some useful and disturbing information on current conditions for women in Baghdad, which is why I quoted it, its statement that "under the dictatorial rule of Saddam Hussein, Iraqi women were among the most liberated in the Arab world" is utter nonsense. That may have been true once upon a time, but the Iraqi regime's "Islamization" campaign of the 1990s changed all that. Human Rights Watch summarized the situation of women in the last years of Saddam's rule as follows:

In the years following the 1991 Gulf War, many of the positive steps that had been taken to advance women's and girls' status in Iraqi society were reversed due to a combination of legal, economic, and political factors.22 The most significant political factor was Saddam Hussein's decision to embrace Islamic and tribal traditions as a political tool in order to consolidate power. In addition, the U.N. sanctions imposed after the war have had a disproportionate impact on women and children (especially girls).23 For example, the gender gap in school enrollment (and subsequently female illiteracy) increased dramatically due to families' financial inability to send their children to school. When faced with limited resources, many families chose to keep their girl children at home.24 According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), as a result of the national literacy campaign, as of 1987 approximately 75 percent of Iraqi women were literate; however, by year-end 2000, Iraq had the lowest regional adult literacy levels, with the percentage of literate women at less than 25 percent.25

Women and girls have also suffered from increasing restrictions on their freedom of mobility and protections under the law.26 In collusion with conservative religious groups and tribal leaders, the government issued numerous decrees and introduced legislation negatively impacting women's legal status in the labor code, criminal justice system, and personal status laws.27 In 2001, the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Violence against Women reported that since the passage of the reforms in 1991, an estimated 4,000 women and girls had been victims of "honor killings."28 In recent years, both the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) administrations in northern Iraq issued decrees suspending laws allowing for mitigation of sentences in honor crimes, but the degree to which the suspension has been implemented is unknown.29

Furthermore, as the economy constricted, in an effort to ensure employment for men the government pushed women out of the labor force and into more traditional roles in the home. In 1998, the government reportedly dismissed all females working as secretaries in governmental agencies.30 In June 2000, it also reportedly enacted a law requiring all state ministries to put restrictions on women working outside the home.31 Women's freedom to travel abroad was also legally restricted and formerly co-educational high schools were required by law to provide single-sex education only, further reflecting the reversion to religious and tribal traditions.32 As a result of these combined forces, by the last years of Saddam Hussein's government the majority of women and girls had been relegated to traditional roles within the home.

(emphasis added-DD)

The Islamization process also applied to women's dress. As the Washington Post's Anthony Shadid noted in an article from Baghdad on the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom, wearing of veils had become widespread even among female members of the Baath Party.

JasonM quotes two additional paragraphs from the Sunday Times article dealing with the experiences of "Riverbend", a young female Iraqi blogger who, by her account, lost her job because she is a woman. Of course, this took place in June 2003, not recently as the Times article implies.

JasonM sums up his point as follows:

In other words, the average Iraqi woman is even worse off now than under Saddam Hussein.

Forgive me for disagreeing, but I would hardly consider women living in upper-class Sunni neighborhoods of Baghdad to be "average" Iraqi women. Riverbend in particular, with her flawless command of English and unrelenting hostility to every change that has occurred in Iraq since the fall of Saddam, has become the darling of the "anti-war" left. The fact that she is almost certainly a child of Baathist privilege, whose experiences are anything but typical of Iraqi women, is usually overlooked.

It is true that Iraqi women who were part of the elite under the old regime, such as Riverbend, are worse off now than they were under Saddam. Of course, unlike other Iraqi women, they never had to worry about being tortured, dumped in a mass grave, or dragged from their homes and beheaded by the Fedayeen Saddam. As long as their husbands or parents kept them away from Uday, privileged Iraqi women such as Riverbend were safe. Unfortunately, the majority of Iraqi women under Saddam couldn't say the same.

Yes, the status and situation of women in Iraq is very much an issue of concern. The forces of radical Islamism, both Sunni and Shia, are determined to destroy women's rights in that country. However, the idea that the "average Iraqi woman" was better off under Saddam is simply not supported by the facts.


Anonymous JasonM said...

Thank you for responding.

I was not in anyway trying to paint Saddam as some proponent of women’s rights.

My point was that you selectively quoted an article to back up your views, while the rest of the article contradicted you. Had you even read the whole article until I pointed this out?

Is the average woman worse off now, the answer is yes. Don’t believe me, believe the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq or OWFI (

OWFI spokeswoman Houzan Mahmoud has said this about life during and after Saddam:
“Women in Iraq endured untold hardships and difficulties during the past three decades of the Ba'ath regime. Although some basic rights for women, such as the right to education, employment, divorce in civil courts and custody over kids, were endorsed in the Personal Status Code, some of these legal rights were routinely violated.
The Ba'ath regime's "faithfulness campaign", an act of terrorism against women that included the summary beheading of scores of those accused of prostitution, is just one example of its brutality against women.

However, it is now almost a year after the war, which was supposed to bring "liberation" to Iraqis. Rather than an improvement in the quality of women's lives, what we have seen is widespread violence, and an escalation of violence against women.”,,1164268,00.html

More recently she said “"women could go out to work, university and get married or divorced in civil courts. But at the moment women have lost almost all their rights and are being pushed back into the corner of their house." She says the new constitution is “very backward and anti-women. "They make Islam the source for law-making, and the main official religion of the country. This in itself means Islamic Sharia law and according to this women will be considered second-class citizens and will have no power in deciding over their lives."

For the record, Mahmoud is Kurdish, not a former Ba’ath sympathizer.

Now, let’s discuss the links you posted this time:
1. No one disputes the Hussein brothers were rapists & murderers of women.
2. I’d never heard of River Bend’s blog before you posted the article. But we should disregard her based on tenuous allegations that she’s an ex-Ba’athist? She doesn’t agree with you so she’s not “Iraqi enough”? Only an ex-Ba’athist with a western background would call someone a vampire? Please.
3. The BBC article on mass graves: “The victims are believed to be Kurds killed in 1987-88, their bodies bulldozed into the graves after being summarily shot dead.” Yes, truly sickening atrocities. Give the current factions in Iraq time (insurgents AND government leaders) they’ll create their own mass graves. It should also be noted that the crimes described in these articles took place while the Reagan administration was funding Saddam’s regime. Reagan’s dead, but do you recommend we put surviving members of his administration on trial for supporting these crimes?

"Yes, the status and situation of women in Iraq is very much an issue of concern. The forces of radical Islamism, both Sunni and Shia, are determined to destroy women's rights in that country. However, the idea that the "average Iraqi woman" was better off under Saddam is simply not supported by the facts.”

The larger issue here though, is that it doesn’t matter who ultimately runs Iraq. Your last paragraph proves my point. Whether it’s governed by Wahabis, “moderate” Shias or Sadrists, it will be a misogynist theocracy. We can keep our soldiers there for six months or six years, long term it will still be a theocracy.

And I’m sorry David, but I don’t think one American should give his or her life (or come home missing limbs) for Sharia law.

12:32 PM  

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