By Charlotte Bruneau
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A powerful mix of insecurity and traditional prejudice against more liberal female politicians put Awatef Rasheed off running for parliament when she returned to Iraq in 2014 after years abroad.
With Iraq becoming less stable seven years later, Rasheed decided to run for an Oct. 10 election, even though abuses and intimidation continue against women who would like to be lawmakers.
Today she is among the 951 candidates for the election to the country’s 329-seat Council of Representatives. She represents close to 30% of all the other candidates.
A new domestic violence bill and greater representation of women in government are some of the goals for potential female lawmakers.
Elections can prove to be a difficult experience for women politicians in Iraq.
Rasheed scrolled to her smartphone, looking at photos of her campaign banner that was torn apart. Her face looked exactly as it did when she saw the tears.
She said that of the 38 banners she had put up in Basra, only 28 were destroyed and four went missing.
Rasheed, who fled Saddam Hussein’s government to Canada in 2000, had first begun to fight for women’s empowerment. This led her to continue in the same career after she returned to Iraq.
However, she stated that “political parties didn’t easily accept women like myself, who have an gender perspective”, and her family was also concerned about the political violence in Iraq.
Discrimination is still an issue, even though Iraq introduced measures to safeguard women candidates this year. Instead of reporting violence to the police, they can report it directly to judicial investigators. Women candidates can use the hotlines provided by the interior ministry for complaints.
Hanaa Edwar, human rights activist, said that in 2018, female candidates faced threats and defamation.
Edwar had worked to advance women in politics in 2003 after Saddam’s fall, in a campaign that sought a gender quota of at least 40% in parliament and government. A quota that guaranteed women 25 percent of the parliamentary seats was adopted.
Nada Al-Jubori is a politician and a doctor. She has twice been elected through the gender contingent since 2005.
“Defending women’s issues has never been easy”, Jubori told Reuters from her office in Baghdad’s Adhamiya neighbourhood.
As additional obstacles for women who want to make their voices heard in Parliament, she cited decades of violence, sectarian conflict and tribal pressure.
She said that religious political parties demand their women members adopt their conservative social agenda.
Ola al Tamimi, 35-years old, is an engineer who ran for president of the secular National Awareness Movement. She’s one of a number of new women entering politics. She believes that passing a new domestic violence bill is an urgent issue.
She stated that women are still marginalized and the level of domestic violence in Iraq was dangerous. It is important to pass a law that addresses domestic violence. This requires unity from women.
Women’s rights advocates who have campaigned for a domestic violence law for about 10 years want to introduce shelters for victims of domestic violence and stricter punishment of so-called honour crimes, for example the murder of a woman accused of shaming her family. However, opposition from religious parties has prevented any law being adopted.
Jubori also wants to increase the number of women serving in executive positions. Only three women are ministerial in the current government.
According to Jubori, more women should be nominated to top jobs in public institutions to enable them to acquire political capital and visibility over time. “They will get the chance to become better known and increase their resources, so that in future elections, we won’t need the quota anymore.”