Zanib Salbi, founder and president of Women for Women International, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that with abductions of women on the rise in post-war Iraq, more needs to be done to be sure women are involved in the political process. “Women are falling prey to the chaos and anarchy in Iraq,” Salbi said, noting that women are targeted for kidnappings not only on the street, but also in their homes. Salbi cited a recent Economist article that reported: “Neighbors wail of daughters kidnapped from cars caught in traffic jams, and of a market trafficking women emerging in a dilapidated old Jewish quarter.” Due to the number of abductions and the lack of security, women have become less visible on the streets of Iraq.
The political influence of women in post-war Iraq has been limited. While Salbi noted that on average there has been very little religious opposition to women’s participation in the new government, women are being left behind because those involved have not foreseen the importance of women’s input, she concluded. Despite women’s exclusion from the political process, their determination for participation remains strong. Salbi recalled one conversation with a middle-aged woman in traditional headscarf, Isma, who told her: “I want Iraqi women to be a part of every process of rebuilding the country… in the army, in sport, in every single sector. Women need to have 50 percent representation in the country. I wish this could happen. We deserve that and we have the credibility to do that as well.”
Salbi also would like to see gender equality in Iraq. “Gender issues must be at the core of all reconstruction plans in Iraq,” Salbi said. This, she believes, includes more strategic plans for food distribution, police retraining, women’s participation in politics, and security in the public realm. Without the inclusion of women in all levels of the reconstruction process, “women will once again be marginalized in the short and long term in Iraqi society,” Salbi noted.