"Standing Up for Iraqi Women," by Paula Dobriansky

 

Wednesday  July 2, 2003
(Under secretary of state op-ed article in Washington Post) (720)

(This column by Paula Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Global
Affairs, was published in the Washington Post July 2 and is in the
public domain. No republication restrictions.)

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Standing Up for Iraqi Women
By Paula Dobriansky

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.

(The writer is undersecretary of state for global affairs.)

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