Yanar Mohammed was impressed that both men and women attended her speech on the state of women’s rights in Iraq last week.
“It is something to be praised, that women’s rights are to be fought for by men and women,” Mohammed, president of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, said.
Her organization seeks to equate the status of women in Iraq to that of men while aiding those who have escaped honor killings, the practice of killing a woman who has dishonored the family. Honor killings are “the most heinous form of oppressing women,” Mohammed said.
She is also part of the Iraqi Freedom Congress, which seeks to end U.S. occupation and create a constitution that calls for equality of men and women and an end to theocratic rule.
Mohammed writes for Equal Rights Now!, an Iraqi newspaper devoted to spreading the cause “for a secular and egalitarian alternative in Iraq,” according to a quote from the paper.
Mohammed believes that the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein has actually turned out to be negative for Iraqi women. Under Hussein’s dictatorship, she said, “For women it was better off.” Women were allowed to dress in normal street clothes and could find work.
“The streets became a no-women zone (after Hussein left power)” she said.
Honor killings happened under Hussein’s rule but were not as common as they now are, Mohammed said. She said now, because honor killings are condoned by religion as well as society, murderers are only punished with several months in jail.
Things are also worse for men who try to protect women, Mohammed said, as there have been accounts of male defenders being beaten and tortured.
Since Hussein was removed, there has been an influx of fundamental Islamic ideas and Arabic nationalism in the area, which the United States sought to get rid of in the Middle East. “What we received was a political vacuum,” Mohammed said.
According to Mohammed, 40 percent of the new parliament is composed of theocratic parties. “What we are facing is the possibility of creating a new theocracy in Iraq,” Mohammed said.
What angered Mohammed was how the United States handled the creation of a new government.
“The United States administration was set to ID us as ethnic groups, religious groups, and women were put on only as decoration,” Mohammed said.
Many people could not vote due to fighting on the streets, she said. In some places where people did vote, terrorists looked for people who had dipped their fingers in ink to cast their vote and cut off the tips. Seven buildings where voting was held were blown up.
Mohammed said she believes that after 35 years under dictatorship, the people needed to see stability and be shown their options before voting for their leaders. They had grown used to life under a dictator and would not see the difference if another rose to power. “You cannot set someone free from a cage if they are happy there,” she said.
Although much of her talk was against the Bush administration, Mohammed also showed anger toward the liberals in the United States. While they opposed the war, they did not do so for what she felt were the right reasons. “They don’t give a damn about what political Islam does to women,” Mohammed said.
Mohammed’s most urgent matter was to prove to women in Iraq that they are equal to men. She spoke of women at meetings who didn’t understand why other women were so upset about their place in society. She said she hopes to garner support from inside Iraq as well as in other countries, to help create a free, equal country.
Students who went to hear her speak said they were impressed by the presentation. “I thought she was very well spoken,” Noha Aljawhary, sophomore biology major, said.
“I thought it was just amazing,” Zia Al-khalil, sophomore political science major, said. “I am amazed that someone is willing to go up and talk about that.”