Hear them roar: women in Iraq make headlines as thousands run for office

by Robin Miniter

The recent 2009 provincial elections in Iraq caused a stir of excitement that echoed around the world. With over 14,000 candidates from over 400 political parties, the diversity of candidates brought forth an added element of excitement to the fledgling democracy. One of the most notable feats was the over 4,000 women of all ages set out to campaign. The government mandated that a third of the 440 seats would be given to a woman.

An Iraqi man pastes up campaign posters on a wall that is filled with predominantly female candidates. (courtesy of AP/Hadi Mizban)

An Iraqi man pastes up campaign posters on a wall that is filled with predominantly female candidates. (courtesy of AP/Hadi Mizban)

In the second set of elections since Saddam Hussein’s fall in 2003, women are looking forward to claiming their place in society and the emphasizing the importance of the fact that their voices must be heard. Now, they are getting a chance.

The provincial elections are significant because of the voice they give voters on a local level. Once the seats have been filled, those elected will then go on to decide the governors for the 14 out of 18 Iraqi provinces. Three of the excluded provinces Irbil, Dahuk and Sulimanya – are all part of the Kurdish regional government, while the last, Kirkuk, was unable to reach a power-sharing consensus.

As a political science major with a focus on international issues, sophomore Kelsea Burch said, “These women will make a great contribution to the reform that is necessary in their country, particularly regarding women’s rights.”

In the 2005 election, the few women – mostly being the wives and sisters of male candidates – who chose to run on the ballot cards were faced with scorn and even violence. This time around, candidates were women from all walks of life. Though few have previous political experience, all commonly cited a new vision for their country as their inspiration to become part of the political system.

women line up in order to wait for their turn to cast their ballots (courtesy of the International Republican Institute)

Standing room only: women line up in order to wait for their turn to cast their ballots (courtesy of the International Republican Institute)

In an interview with McClatchy newspapers, Diyala province candidate Islam Abbas Faraj stated, “If women win, we would have more peace and less violence.” One woman on the campaign trail interviewed by The Guardian, a British newspaper, describes her, “desire to serve Iraq…my priority is to work for the sake of Iraqi women.”

Dr. Robyn Rosen, associate professor in the Marist College History department and Women’s Studies professor said, “it’s inspiring to see Iraqi women taking politics seriously in their very new democracy and to see democracy finding a place for women beyond mere tokenism.” Though she questions why every third seat was given to a woman rather than every other, she sees it as forward motion.

About 60% of the country’s population is made up of women; the question has been raised of why they did not receive a more fair allocation of seats.

Marist sophomore Sophie Ordway, also involved in the women’s studies program, agrees with Rosen on the seat count, but says, “…it definitely sounds like it’s a step in the right direction. The fact that 4,000 women ran shows that there is a lot of power and support there.” Ordway added urges, “Just think how many women who have the same views [as these candidates] but did not have the courage to run, but now feel maybe inspired by these other 4000 women.”

The results of this election will surely test the health of the newly formed government. In a White House press release, President Barack Obama commended the nation for their peaceful assembly and wished them well.


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