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March 24, 2006

Perspective from Dr. Rashad Zaydan, an Iraqi woman

The Public Square, at the Illinois Humanities Council and the Chicago Cultural Center hosted a luncheon today with Dr. Rashad Zaydan, "Women Say No To War." I went to the event as a representative of our "Women Challenge US Policy: Building Peace on Justice in the Middle East" (WCUSP) campaign.

Dr. Zaydan is a member of the Iraqi women's delegation that is touring the US, organized by Global Exchange and Code Pink.

At the beginning of the presentation, we viewed an 8 minute slide show that included images of the horrors created in Iraq by the US. Here are some things I learned from Dr. Zaydan:

Before the war, 75% of Iraqi women had college degrees. 31% of Iraqi women had graduate degrees (About 35% of European and US women have graduate degrees.)
Now, 10% of Iraqi women continue in their professions. Most women stay away from their work because of serious safety concerns. And most women and girls are kept from away from schools and universities due to safety concerns.

Before coming to the US, Dr. Rashad thought that freedom and democracy in the US meant that "everything is done by agreement of the people," meaning that the US people must support the invasion and occupation of Iraq since we live in a democracy. She now realizes that many US people hate our government's policy and have no control over foreign policy.

Dr. Rashad attended a conference with women from through the Arab world. They studied all of their countries' constitutions to look for the best model on women's rights. They determined that the Iraqi constitution during Saddam's regime was the best on women's rights. For example, under the old regime, women could choose to work and were paid the same as men. They also received two months paid leave during birth, six months paid maternity leave after their child was born, and could opt for an additional six months leave at half-pay, and a second year of unpaid leave. (Meaning women could leave their jobs for two years, with the confidence that the job would be available when they returned to work.) Under the new constitution, women can work if it does not affect their family and if their husband agrees to allow them to work.

Under the former regime, Iraqis had universal healthcare. They had access to chemotherapy. Under the occupation, they must pay for access to healthcare. And there is no chemotherapy available, despite the fact that the use of depleted uranium by the US has significantly increased the amount of cancer, particularly breast cancer in women, and cancer in children.

In some ways, I am overwhelmed by the difference between Dr. Rashad's account of life in Iraq and mainstream media coverage. I know I shouldn't be surprised by the differences, but it seems vital to bring the truth to light and challenge this administration.

On a related note, WCUSP leadership team members were involved in the Portland "End the War, Begin the Peace" march last Sunday where another member of the Iraqi women's delegation, Eman Ahmed Khamas, spoke. Portland's event was the largest in the US; organizers estimate at least 15,000 people rallied to end US and Israeli occupations and begin the peace.

cross-posted from WILPF blog.

Posted by cj at March 24, 2006 6:19 PM


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