First Published: 2005-02-14

 
Iraqi women set to make history in Arab politics
 

Women are set to take almost third of seats in new parliament, situation unprecedented in Arab world.

 

Middle East Online

By Joelle Bassoul - BAGHDAD

A new experience

Iraqi women are poised to take almost a third of seats in the new national assembly following the country's first free elections in decades, bringing about a situation unprecedented in Arab politics.

Women are set to take 86 of the 275 seats up for grabs according to results announced Sunday thanks to a quota system which meant that one in four candidates in the historic vote was a woman.

The country's transitional law stipulates that women must make up at least 25 percent of the national assembly, yet Iraqi women have exceeded that figure to win 31 percent of the seats.

Observers say that the winning Shiite list backed by the majority community's spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani will have 46 women out of its predicted sweep of 140 seats.

"These figures can only make us happy because Iraqi women have begun to take a major place on the political scene," said Janan al-Obeidi, a candidate for the victorious United Iraqi Alliance.

"But this success also imposes a big responsibility on women deputies in general, still more on those from our list because Islam is accused of ignoring women's right," she said.

"Our success proves the opposite and shows the importance given to women."

Secular candidates and women's groups have expressed fears that the domination of the alliance by Shiite religious parties might worsen the position of women in Iraqi society.

Some religious groups in Iraq have already pushed for socially restrictive laws.

"We will begin by putting in place a strong women's group within the Alliance and then we will choose a representative who will set up a dialogue with MPs from other lists," said Obeidi.

Secular MPs are keen to pursue that dialogue to head off any proposed law restricting women's rights.

"It is our duty to unite to serve the cause of women in Iraq, so that all can have their rights, women in politics as well as the illiterate and housewives," said Rozida Abdelkader Sherif, a candidate for the second-placed Kurdish Alliance which will have 27 women among its estimated 75 MPs.

"Even within the national council, women formed a bloc to defend their cause beyond their political or community allegiances," she said, referring to the interim government set up in August last year.

"We are allied and united and we must remain so," said Lamia al-Sadri, one of 15 women due to take their seats on outgoing Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's list.

"We will prove that women are able and, above all, independent," she said.

Yet it remains to be seen whether women candidates can act independently of their parties and lists, in a society where strong tribal allegiances leave little place for the temptations of female individualism.

"We must all work to give women an effective role within the national assembly and men must help this happen," said Kurdish candidate Mahmud Othman.

But Othman admitted that "this is a new experience" and men will have to make particular efforts to ensure that women's presence in parliament is not just decorative.

 

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