conducted workshops for women and worked with Iraqi women’s organizations on women’s rights awareness and skills training. For example, Women for Women International, a U.S.-based NGO, is supporting the development of an NGO community in Iraq and has partnered with agencies and other groups to develop a number of women’s centers throughout the country, some of which will provide leadership workshops as well as vocational skills training.40
Issues for U.S. Policy
The Bush Administration has continued to assert that the position of Iraqi women has improved following the U.S. toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime. In a speech on March 12, 2004, President Bush indicated that “every woman in Iraq is better off because the rape rooms and torture chambers of Saddam Hussein are forever closed.”41 Nonetheless, a number of concerns has been raised over the past few months regarding the role of women in a future Iraq and the status of U.S. efforts targeting women in Iraq.
There are a number of security concerns affecting not only the involvement of women in the developing Iraqi political system but also the access of ordinary Iraqi women to reconstruction programs. As noted above, IGC member Akila al-Hashimi was assassinated in September 2003. In late March, 2004, gunmen opened fire on a convoy carrying Iraq’s female Minister of Public Works Nisreen Berwari, who escaped unharmed. On March 9, 2004, Fern Holland, a 33-year old lawyer and former Capitol Hill staffer from Oklahoma, was murdered, along with her deputy Salwa Ourmashi and coalition press officer Robert Zangas.42 Holland worked with the CPA, as the women’s rights coordinator in Shiite-dominated areas within southern Iraq. Some have speculated that Holland was targeted for her work in promoting women’s rights. The lack of security has been cited as a major obstacle in the progress of reconstruction efforts aimed at advancing women’s rights. With the escalation of violence in April 2004, it appears that “many large international aid groups, including most of those with women’s programs, have already withdrawn international staff because of attacks against aid workers. Now the few remaining women’s groups fear they will be next.” 43
A delegation of Iraqi women visiting the United States in early March 2004 indicated that progress on women’s rights in Iraq was continuously threatened by a
Women for Women International, [http://www.womenforwomen.org/owiraq.html].
41“President, Mrs. Bush Mark Progress in Global Women’s Human Rights,” March 12, 2004, [http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/03/20040312-5.html].
42A news story states that close to the town of Karbala, “their car [was] forced off the road and machine-gunned. Investigators arrested six suspects, four with valid Iraqi police ID.” See Annia Ciezadlo, “After an Advocate’s Killing,” Christian Science Monitor, April 1, 2004.