So, the workshop on Iraq was real mind opener. It was conducted by Hanaa Edwar Busha one of the most active fighters for women’s rights in Iraq, general secretary of the Iraqi Al-Amal Association (IAA) and a founder of the Iraqi Women's Network (IWN) and facilitated by Ambara Abu Ayach from the Heinrich Boll Stiftung (hbs) in Beirut. The point of the workshop was to discuss the challenges there have been in Iraq in trying to implement the 1325 and the strategies that women’s organisations have used to achieve it.
First, it was vital to understand that we are talking about a country that was dismantled as recently as 7 years ago. The discussion appointed 2003 as “year zero” in the creation of a new Iraq. Among the main obstacles to be found in implementing the UNSCR 1325 is that the UN has lost credibility among the iraqies and local actors perceive women rights as something “from the west” and as a foreign agenda being inforced. This is very difficult to overcome. Also a big challenge is the dissolved government. The new government even tried to abolish old laws that were major achievements from the iraqi population and that had been in place since the 50’s. The vaccuum created by the government dissolution created a shift in power relationships, groups that did not have any power before (for example certain tribes and islamic movements) now gained some and that has lead to serious issues.
The issue of lip service was also addressed. If before the protection of women’s rights was a major banner under which the occupation was
justified the american government is now singing a different tune in which “the establishment of a rule of law” is the major concern. This has lead to less funding and bargaining with political actors that are not concerned with women’s rights. Additionally, the existing regime stands against international rights that have lost credibility due to the UN intervention in the occupation. And let’s not leave out that Iraq finds itself in a constant state of poverty, war and embargo since the 80’s and suffers from endemic corruption. The oppresion and state of conflict has also lead to a shifting of masculinities, some of them even promoted by women themselves, which has led to an increase in domestic violence and depression. Finally, even if a movement for women’s rights has existed in Iraq for almost 50 years, there was a lack of an active civil society before 1991. After 2003 many NGOs emerged and there was a lot of trial and error by foreign donors. A lot of money was wasted and this led to the creation of artifical networks, many of which have failed to work with the local activists and organizations and therefore to achieve better results.
The fact that most of the obstacles are of a soft component makes them hard to describe, difficult to attack and overcome.
So what can (and must) be done? First, Iraq needs to be put in the media –yes, even if we now think that it is overexposed- so that there is international pressure to improve and create a government with serious emphasis on rule of law and rights. A civil and not a religious state has to be built. As for the donors, they should focus in spending money where it is really needed and building capacity that will be used longterm. Activism must be grassroots but also include partnerships with people in the government and promote natural sinergies. Finally, 50% of iraqies are around 18 years old, so the youth needs to be addressed directly. On this matter Hanaa had to say: “We are still dreaming of the change that can take place in Iraq after a bloody dictatorship. We are still optimistic. Young women are the hope of creating peace”.