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Iraqi Women Strive To Rebuild Country Despite Obstacles

Activists aim to improve economy, pass legislation, protect human rights

07 March 2007
Paula Dobriansky stands with Dr. Sundus Abbas

Under Secretary Paula Dobriansky with Sundus Abbas, recipient of an International Women of Courage Award. (Janine Sides/State Dept.)

Washington – Iraqi women have made great progress in recent years, but still face obstacles while working to achieve full equality, two Iraqi women activists said March 7.

Wide participation of women in the political process is something new for Iraqi society, said Sundus Abbas, executive director of the Women’s Leadership Institute in Baghdad. Iraq. "For more than 35 years Iraqi women were absent from the decision making process,” she told USINFO. “Now Iraqi women participate. In spite of this, there is suffering for Iraqi women."

Security problems, a difficult economic situation and the attitudes of some who seek to roll back women’s rights and erase the achievements of women make the role Iraqi women more difficult, she said.

“Iraqi women are working hard in spite of all these difficulties, despite all that you have seen in the media,” Abbas said.

She said women have the right to participate in the rebuilding of their country, a task too large for only men. "It is our country, and we are all the people rebuilding it," she said.

Shatha Abdul Razzak Abbousi, a member of the Iraqi Council of Representatives, agreed. Of the 275 council members, 80 are women. Although many of these female members are not the most vocal leaders and often do not speak to the press, they are very active in the council’s committees, Abbousi told USINFO.

Iraqi women are working diligently to improve their economy, achieve peace and participate in civil society and other fields, the women said. "Iraqi women are fighting more then one front," Abbas said. Both Abbas and Abbousi have been active on many of these fronts. With the Women’s Leadership Institute, Abbas has taught classes on decisionmaking, providing women with leadership skills that better empower them. Abbousi, who is a member of Iraq’s Human Rights Committee, has helped introduce and pass human rights legislation.

Women are well qualified to participate in Iraqi society, Abbas said. "Not only in our houses. We can build, we can educate others; we can even make decisions in political and economic situations. … We deserve as women to take our rights to participate in all decision making positions.”

Abbas and Razzak Abbousi were two of 10 women receiving the Award for International Women of Courage from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It is the first time the award has been given.

In celebration of International Women’s Day 2007, Rice paid tribute to these women for their commitment to advocating for women’s rights. The Award for International Women of Courage recognizes women around the globe who have shown exceptional courage and leadership. (See related article )

Both women said they felt their awards were not for them, but rather for all Iraqi women. These awards encourage them to work harder, the activists said.

Iraq and especially the women of Iraq still need the international community’s help, Abbas said. “We still need the moral support from all the women of the world. We need them to support us in this difficult and critical time."

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

Paula Dobriansky stands with Shatha Abdul Razzak Abbousi

Paula Dobriansky with Shatha Abdul Razzak Abbousi, recipient of an International Women of Courage Award. (Janine Sides/State Dept.)

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