Sunday, February 27, 2005

But Surely You Cannot Deny That at Least, Under Saddam's Rule, Iraqi Women Were Better Off?

Or, at worst (or at best), just as badly off as they are in the "chaos" and "insecurity" brought in by the U.S. invasion …

In view of the fact that Amnesty International is poised to release a study that Iraqi women are no better off in the Post-Saddam world than during the dictatorship, the Ashbrook Center's Robert Alt feels compelled to remind us about the (supposed) absence of chaos and insecurity prior to March 2003.

Toward the end of my time in Iraq, I recall chatting with a Lebanese woman who was providing humanitarian aid. She (and others) explained to me that if Saddam’s son, Uday, happened to be travelling anywhere near where you lived, you kept your daughters inside to prevent him from capturing them as his sex slaves. I visited one of Uday’s palaces—his love shack—where the soldiers found sex slaves locked in a room when they liberated the country. These women were lucky to have lived: Uday was known to be impotent, and would often kill the women he kidnapped, blaming them for his own failure. Of course, Uday was not the only rapist in the regime: Saddam officially sanctioned rape as a punishment in his now famous rape rooms.

Yet the Reuters article makes no mention of any of this. Rather it quotes the report for the following offenses: "Women have been subjected to sexual threats by members of the U.S.-led forces and some women detained by U.S. forces have been sexually abused, possibly raped[.]" Any crimes committed by U.S. soldiers should be seriously examined and, if proven, punished, but the hedge word "possibly" means that Amnesty didn’t have particularly solid evidence regarding the more serious of the allegations. Under Saddam, rape was officially sanctioned, and there is no question that it occurred regularly. How then can conditions be the same?

Amnesty also cites increased violence, which keeps women from working or going to school. I personally travelled throughout Iraq, and I just didn’t see this. I saw girls going to school in increased numbers, largely because of improvements made to the school facilities. I saw people going about their daily lives in the face of random violence. More recently, it was the women who shamed the men by going out to vote in large numbers in the violent centers of Fallujah and Sadr City while the men stayed home.

The article also fails to mention the increased political role that women have gained: women now constitute roughly 25% of the legislature. You get the idea. Women have a long way to go in Iraq to achieve meaningful equality, but that does not mean that they have not made any progress since Saddam was removed, and it takes a demonstrably skewed perspective to suggest otherwise.