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Women Organisations in Iraq Towards Freedom From Manipulation

6 June 2014

The Iraqi civil society was unrecognised during Sadam Hussein’s era, civil society organisations were either incorporated in the Ba’ath associations or completely repressed and in some cases criminalised by law. Activists were either detained and abused or exiled and had little to no influence on the political sphere of the country.

Women organisations were paralysed and hijacked by the Ba’ath party’s “Women Association”. The association served as a tool of repression, using women to emphasise a fake progressive image of an authoritarian regime and later on becoming means to crowd mobilise women to serve oppressive agendas.

Two ironic incidents showed the level of manipulation that women faced under the Ba’ath rule. In the late seventies, Iraq was taking steps towards an industrial boom that entailed full use of every possible manpower. The Women Association lead a large campaign to mobilise women and send them to work, it was called “the Guigoz campaign” referring to the baby milk formula to be used as an alternative to breast feeding so women can go to work as soon as they deliver. The campaign did work, babies were put on Guigoz and women sent to work and contribute to the industrial boom.

Soon after, Sadam Hussein invaded Iran starting what was later known as the deadliest conventional war ever fought between regular armies of developing countries. The Iraqi casualties of the 8 years war are estimated at 105,000–200,000 killed, about 400,000 wounded and some 70,000 taken prisoner.

In preparation for further aggressions, Sadam used the Women Association again but to campaign against baby milk formula this time, the purpose was to bring women back home to increase birth rates and balance the massive human losses of the war. The campaigns advocated that baby milk formula is deadly and that the highest virtue of a woman is to have many children and raise future soldiers. At one point, the head of the Women Association declared in a speech to the public that she is pregnant to serve the higher sake of the nation.

Years later, Iraqi women were used again as one of many excuses of the American/British invasion of Iraq, calls that the invasion aimed to “liberate Iraqi women” were no different to the former or later manipulation and abuse of Iraqi women to implement political agendas.

After the overthrow of Sadam Hussein regime in 2003, the Iraqi civil society sector began to emerge, and has since grown exponentially. Today the number of civil society organisations is estimated to be as high as 10,000 with over 2000 NGO’s registered since 2011 according to the Iraqi NGO Directorate.

The impact of the growing civil society became undeniable and women organisations with their skilled activists and undefeatable longing for liberation took the lead in this growth showing great commitment, skills and visions.

Despite the massive atrocities that took place in Iraq after the invasion in 2003, the ever deteriorating security situation and the failure of the state to protect civilians from the overwhelming targeting by armed groups, women still found a space to advocate for their rights and call for effective participation.

Their efforts resulted in the introduction of a 25% quota system for parliament members which resulted in a significant women presence in the parliament and local councils. However, the turbulent political situation meant that political parties are abusing women MPs to apply their party’s agenda.

The limited understanding of women concerns by parliamentarians (including women parliamentarians) emphasised this outcome and resulted in a clear need to raise awareness of parliamentarians on women concerns, the state international obligations related to them, and their role in peace and security. This is one of the many challenges that we all have to deal with in the near future.

There is so much to be done, but having seen what the great women of Iraq could do in a decade, standing on their own in the face of militarisation, aggression, patronisation and patriarchy, I am positive that my generation will witness the very end of women manipulation in Iraq and beyond.

Written by Laila Alodat

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Melissa Torres

VICE-PRESIDENT

Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani

VICE-PRESIDENT

Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo

PRESIDENT

Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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Demilitarisation

WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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