Women Leaders from Iraq: Perspectives on Reconstruction
In Washington, D.C. for ten days, a delegation of many of the most senior
women leaders from Iraq spoke on reconstruction and the role of women
in formal and informal governance structures.
Included in the delegation were: Songul Chapook and Rajaa Habib Khuzai, the two female members of the Iraqi Governing Council; Nassreen Hayder Kader and Siham Hattab Hamdan, members of the Baghdad City Advisory Council; Narmin Othman, former Minister of Education for Sulaimaniya Kurdistan; and a wide variety of women leaders from non-governmental organizations and the private sector.
This event was co-sponsored by the United States Institute of Peace, The World Bank, Women Waging Peace, and
American Bar Association Central and Eastern European Law Initiative.
A delegation of approximately 20 prominent Iraqi women participated in a series of workshops, meetings and site visits to government agencies in Washington, DC November 9-19, 2003, to explore the role of women in Iraqi reconstruction. The Wilson Center's Conflict Prevention Project and Middle East Program, in conjunction with Women Waging Peace, the World Bank, and the American Bar Association (CEELI) hosted a public meeting November 13 wherein eight members of the delegation, including the two female members of the Iraqi Governing Council, presented their concerns. The women discussed their findings in two panels, each consisting of four women. The first panel—dedicated to women's role in formal governing structures—consisted of Governing Council members Songul Chapouk and Rajaa Habib Khuzai, as well as Baghdad City Advisory Council members Nassreen Hayder Kader and Siham Hattab Hamdan.
Songul Chapouk, founder of the Iraqi Women's Organization, emphasized the need for an increase in efforts to support and nurture civil society. "These organizations need assistance and support," Chapouk said, "and particularly the vulnerable groups that do not have enough support. Women, widows, orphans and the disabled all need support and assistance."
Rajaa Habib Khuzai, president of the Iraqi Women's Organization in Diwania and founder of the Women's Health Center in Baghdad, said more women need to be involved in formal governance in Iraq. "The original Governing Council fails to represent the full voice of women in Iraq, and it is your responsibility to nominate more women now." Khuzai pointed out that women make up between 55 and 60 percent of the Iraqi population and suggested a minimum of 10 women sit on the 25 member Governing Council.
Siham Hattab Hamdan, who holds a master's degree in English literature and sits on the Legal Affairs and Human Rights, and Women and Children Affairs committees on the Baghdad City Advisory Council, urged Americans to give Iraqis trust and support in the coming months and years. "Iraq now is living in a very crucial time and we need any help and support," Hamdan said. "But basically, the most important thing we need is trust. We need the CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority] to trust in the mentality and capability of the Governing Council to run the country in this transitional, important, crucial and dangerous period."
Nassreen Hayder Kader, who holds a master's degree in microbiology from Baghdad University, pointed out that Iraqis need to be educated about democratic principles.
"We want to know the principles of democracy because the reality is that there is confusion among Iraqi people of how to behave. What is the meaning of democracy?" She suggested educational lectures and the use of the media would help facilitate the transition for Iraqi people.
The second panel was dedicated to women's role in civil society and the private sector. Speakers included: Ala Talabani, Co-Founder of the Iraqi Women's Council and the former Vice President of the Kurdish Women's Union; Eltifat Abdul Sada Mahdi Al-Fatlami, a lawyer and Director of the Iraqi Orphanage Association; Sawsan Al-Barak, Co-Founder of the Fatima Al-Zahara Women's Center; and Awatef Aswad, a member of the Iraqi Independent Women's Group. Talabani said it is time for Americans to cease discussions about the justness of the war. "My message to the United States people is to tell them to stop talking about whether the war was right or wrong," Talabani said. "Support the Iraqi people, support the Iraqi women to build their country. If you are not supporting us, we are going to lose our hope. We need help—any kind of support."