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precarious security situation and the rise of Islamic factions.44 One analyst recently wrote that since the start of the occupation, “life has not returned to ‘normal’ in Iraq. In places where kidnapping occurs frequently, children must be accompanied to

schools and women are escorted to the market and have taken to donning (body-covering black garments) to ensure greater self-protection.” 45

abaya Yanar

Mohammad,

the

leader

of

a

secular,

Iraqi-based

women’s

rights

group

called

the

Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, reports she has threats from Islamist militia groups, who have “threatened ‘blow up’ activists who work with her.” 46

received several death to assassinate her and

Challenges within Iraq

There are a number of Iraqi cultural beliefs and attitudes that might present challenges to reconstruction efforts targeting women. One of the challenges is related to the extent that Islamic law or shar’iah will play a role in a future Iraqi government. As discussed above, there are Iraqi groups — some of which are represented on the U.S.-appointed Governing Council — that are interested in instituting Islamic courts instead of civil courts to oversee matters related to marriage, divorce, and inheritance. These courts would be run by Muslim clerics - all of whom are male.

According to news sources, some Iraqi women’s groups fear that “individual religious judges would impose Saudi- or Iranian-style rulings that strip women of rights they enjoyed under Saddam’s more-secular government.”47 Some analysts are concerned that the growing religious conservatism within Iraqi society is threatening women who are liberal, secularist, and non-Muslim or those Muslim women who do not wish to be ruled by a religious-based law. There is also concern among Kurdish- Iraqi women’s groups who feel that the strides made during years of relative autonomy (1990-2003) could be threatened by the fast-growing conservative religious tide. Many Iraqi women have complained that they have been forced to wear a head scarf and reports indicate that in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, Christian female university students have also been pressured to don head scarves.48

Other Iraqi women’s groups, however, point out that Islamic law is not inherently against women. A Baghdad-based group called the Islamic Women’s Movement notes that “Islamic scriptures accord women considerable rights — inheriting property, for example, or declining an unwanted husband. They say it’s the way male authorities interpret those writings that keeps women from exercising

44“The Role Of Women in the Emerging Government and Society of Iraq,” event on March 8, 2004, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

45Anita Sharma, “Women in Iraq: Between Fear and Freedom,” March 12, 2004, [http://www.opendemocracy.net/debates/article-2-95-1776.jsp].

46

47

Houzan Mahmoud, “An Empty Sort of Freedom,” The Guardian, March 8, 2004. Paul Wiseman, “Iraqi Women Juggle Freedom,” USA Today, March 8, 2004.

48 “Iraq: Female Harassment from Religious Conservatives,”Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), April 14, 2004.

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