Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Women Yearn for Security

Many women supported the constitution in the hope it will bring an end to violence.
By Raghad Ali

Suha Ahmed took her four children with her when she voted in the constitutional referendum, but her motives for taking them along had a dark undertone, unconnected with exposing them to the democratic process.

“If I die, I will die along with my children. If I live, we will live together,” she said.

Like dozens of other women interviewed in the capital, the 35-year-old voted in favour of the constitution - which was officially passed on October 25 - in the hope that it would help Iraq move on from mass violence and strife.

Though many women declined to give the charter a ringing endorsement, they said they believed it would help prioritise security and, as a result, improve their daily lives.

Iraqi women have suffered immensely from the violence and instability that has wracked the country. They have lost husbands, brothers, sons and fathers.

Mothers fret over the future of their children who are being raised amid violence and instability. Those who’ve been able to find jobs in Iraq’s flagging economy have become their families’ sole breadwinners for the first time in their lives.

The constitution will benefit women and their children in a number of ways, in particular guaranteeing them housing, healthcare and food. However, there are a number of potential drawbacks.

For instance, female activists and lawmakers fear that women’s rights will be undermined by a provision that declares that no law can oppose Islam.

But for ordinary women, such concerns are not uppermost in their minds.

“I don’t care about anything in the constitution, because we want the government to restore our security, solve our electricity and water problems and alleviate our suffering,” said Samira Ahmed, a 37-year-old ministry of education employee who voted for the charter.

“I am Sunni,” said Huda Omer, 35, who works for the Al-Rasheed Bank. “I say yes to the constitution with all of my voice, because we’re fed up with what’s going on in Iraq. We want peace.”

Female activists and non-governmental organisations made considerable efforts to educate women about the constitution and encourage them to vote, though their turnout on referendum day was unclear. The Independent Electoral Commission in Iraq did not track the gender of voters, said spokesman Farid Ayar.

In the end, some prominent women too said they voted for the constitution despite their reservations.

“The constitution does not give women the rights they deserve, but the political process is very important for tranquillity and stability,” said Samya Aziz, a national assembly representative on the Kurdish alliance list.

“I approved the constitution despite the drawbacks,” said Samar Muhammad, a 41-year-old university professor. “If Iraq doesn’t stabilise, and if doesn’t become secure, we won’t be able to do anything to push forward [women’s] rights.”

Raghad Ali is an IWPR trainee journalist in Baghdad.

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