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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Office of International Women's Issues > Remarks > 2001-2005 International Women's Issues Remarks

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.

[End]

Released on July 2, 2003


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