Reconstructing Gender: Iraqi Women Between Dictatorship, War, Sanctions and Occupation

Citation:

Al-Ali, Nadje. 2005. "Reconstructing Gender: Iraqi Women Between Dictatorship, War, Sanctions and Occupation." Third World Quarterly 26 (4-5): 739-58.

Author: Nadje Al-Ali

Abstract:

This article explores the role of Iraqi women in reconstruction processes by contextualizing the current situation with respect to changing gender ideologies and relations over the past three decades. Before discussing the Iraqi case specifically, I provide a brief theoretical background about the significance of gender in reconstruction as well as nation-building processes. A historical background aims to shed light on the changing gender ideologies and relations during the regime of Saddam Hussein. The article focuses particularly on the impacts of the early developmental-modernist discourses of the state and the impacts of war (Iran-Iraq war 1980-88, Gulf wars 1991, 2003) as well as on the comprehensive economic sanctions regime (1990-2003). The latter involved wider social changes affecting women and gender relations but also society at large because of the impoverishment of the well educated middle- class, wide-scale unemployment, an economic crisis and a shift towards more conservative values and morals. It is against this historical background that contemporary developments related to ongoing conflict, occupation and political transition affect women and gender relations.

Keywords: post-conflict reconstruction, S1325, women's political participation, governance, nation-building, reconstruction, economics, political transition

Annotation:

Al-Ali begins by calling attention to the struggles that Iraqi women have faced in spite of the country’s recent process of democratization. While UN Resolution 1325 calls for the incorporation of gender concerns into the reconstruction process, foreign occupation and the unstable interim government (as of 2005, when this article was written) have prevented the internalization of gender-conscious values among the Iraqi populace. In her article, Al-Ali first explores the significant of gender in the reconstruction process and then turns to post-war Iraq as a case study.

In her section on gender and post-conflict periods, Al-Ali explains that post-war situations often elicit violence against women. In post-war Iraq, for example, the levels of violence (particularly against women) were actually greater following the period of militarized conflict. When violence is no longer institutionalized, women lack the political space to challenge gender relations that they had during wartime; thus, the safety and well-being of women is often ignored in the post-conflict period. Al-Ali proceeds to explain how women have been excluded from post-conflict reconstruction processes. While women strive to make their voices heard through engagement with NGOs, these organizations are often discounted by male-dominated society. SCR 1325 is also ignored in many Muslim societies, as it is viewed as an imposition of Western culture and values, especially in US-occupied Iraq.

Al-Ali provides a historical context through which to analyze the situation of Iraqi women before the 1990s. She explains that early Baathist policies in the 1970s fostered women’s rights as part of the regime’s effort for national indoctrination, and as men went off to fight during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, women took over their positions in the workforce. The economic sanctions imposed on Iraqi society in the 1990s, however, adversely affected women, as it led to a breakdown of the welfare state and pushed women back into their traditional roles as mothers and housewives.

The war has had a drastic impact on gender roles within the household in ways that are detrimental to women. The economic and political issues that have resulted from the war have strained relationships between husbands and wives, leading to increased divorce rates and levels of domestic abuse against women. Due to the high fatality levels among male soldiers, women left without husbands have been forced to run female-headed households, which has presented women with degrees of responsibility with which they often cannot cope.

The increased levels of religiosity in post-war Iraq have also contributed to a culture that puts social limitations on women. Girls have become increasingly worried about their reputation, and the number of honor killings has increased since the start of the war. Additionally, economic hardships have forced women into prostitution, which has led to greater incentives to impose conservative regulations on women’s behavior.

In regard to women’s political participation in the post-war period, Al-Ali explains that the number of women’s organizations has been increasing since 2003, and women have become mobilized around the issues of replacing the personal status law with a more conservative law, as well as the issue of drafting a quota for women’s representation in political office. Recently, however, women’s organizations have been hindered by the country’s severe security situation, which has prevented women from leaving their houses and running for elections in 2005. Gender-specific threats and violence have posed a particular barrier to gender equality in Iraq, according to Human Rights Watch.

Ultimately, Al-Ali presents a bleak picture of the ways in which war, sanctions, and occupation have negatively impacted Iraqi women. Her vision of the future is no less pessimistic; she doubts whether the women’s political representation quota of 25% will be fulfilled, and she points to the worsening humanitarian situation for women in particular. In order to improve the situation for Iraqi women, she advocates  the mainstreaming of gender into all aspects of post-conflict reconstruction, which would involve the incorporation of women into government as well as economic and judiciary processes. Because she attributes the failure of gender equality largely to its association with Western values, she writes that rather than encourage a feminist approach to reconstruction, emphases should be placed on education and other areas that would necessarily improve the status of women.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Economies, Poverty, Education, Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equity, Governance, Post-conflict Governance, Households, Justice, Transitional Justice, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Political Participation, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Religion, Rights, Women's Rights Regions: MENA, Asia, Middle East Countries: Iraq

Year: 2005

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