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Taking Exception: Standing Up for Iraqi Women

Paula J. Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs
Op-Ed
The Washington Post
July 2, 2003

Elizabeth Goitein's May 24 op-ed, "Stand Up for Iraqi Women," unfairly criticized the Bush administration for paying insufficient attention to the situation of women in Iraq. In fact, we are doing exactly what the headline on her article called for. Indeed, the commitment of the United States to the human rights of Iraq's women is unshakable and manifested clearly by our activities on the ground as well as our policy statements. Equally important, our efforts are appropriately guided by the Iraqi women themselves. As Secretary of State Colin Powell has noted, the United States wants to "help the Iraqi people build a stable society, a democratic nation where all the people are represented in government."

We share in the view that the women of Iraq have a critical role to play in the political and economic revival of their society. Most Iraqis have told us of their ardent desire for a broad-based, representative, democratic government that is guided by the rule of law and respects the rights of all Iraqis. Thus, while we respect Iraq's religious traditions, we will oppose any attempt to create a theocracy that tramples on individual human rights -- women's or men's.

These broad principles have already been translated into concrete actions. Iraqi women are involved in all aspects of discussions on political, economic and civil society matters. Under the Coalition Provisional Authority, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer is meeting with Iraqi women to hear firsthand their advice and guidance on the rebuilding of their country. He also has designated a senior official from his democracy and governance team to strengthen women's participation throughout a reconstituted Iraqi government. Meanwhile in Washington, I have appointed an Arabic-speaking expert in the State Department's Office of International Women's Issues to monitor the efforts on the ground and to establish a structure for mobilizing U.S. private-sector support for democracy initiatives that promote women's issues. We are in continuous communication with Iraqi American women and with broader women's groups and nongovernmental organizations. Under the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein, all Iraqis -- men and women -- were denied meaningful opportunities for political participation and were deprived of their basic human rights. For example, rape was often used as a tool to repress dissent. Hussein's machinery of repression is no more.

Now our first priority is also of greatest concern to Iraqi women themselves: security for them and their families. We are confident that as security improves and the habits of tolerance and economic freedom are revived in Iraqi society, more and more Iraqi women will come forward to participate in the reconstruction efforts.

Our activities on the ground today are in support of that vision. We are working to advance the interests of Iraqi women in every area, from human rights to political and economic participation to health care and education. For example, we are supporting Iraqi efforts to prepare school materials that will help teach the country's youth about tolerance and individual freedoms. The two Iraqi political conferences, convened by coalition authorities, issued statements affirming the importance of women's equality. Unfortunately, because of the unsettled security situation, too few women participated in these meetings. Since then, we have begun a strong initiative, working closely with nongovernmental organizations, to identify and encourage significant numbers of Iraqi women to participate in future meetings, in the rebuilding of Iraqi institutions and in the drafting of new laws.

Our commitment to the women of Iraq is part of a broader effort to support the empowerment of women across the Middle East. Through the president's Middle East Partnership Initiative, we are launching programs to train female candidates, fund literacy programs for girls and women, sponsor female entrepreneurs in business exchange programs and support civil society groups working to empower the women of the Middle East. We do not believe that any country can achieve its potential if it disenfranchises or otherwise sidelines half its population.

 


Released on July 2, 2003

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