Women have enjoyed a prominent role in Iraq’s election campaign.
Posters for female parliamentary candidates compete for space with those of their male counterparts.
Some are devoutly religious, covered from head to toe in a black robe, or abaya.
Others are secular liberals, who wear no veil buit rather business suits and make-up.
In total exactly 1,801 women are standing for election and due to a quota system insisted on by the United States for Iraq’s 2005 elections, a quarter of parliamentary seats must be filled by women.
That’s proportionally more female lawmakers than can be found in either of Washington’s houses of Congress.
But the imposed quota doesn’t necessarily translate into greater power. As parliamentary candidate Salama al-Khafaji admits:
“The vision is still a masculine one and parties still nominate men rather than women to the high positions due to the fact that these positions are always given to men who assume ministerial positions and are nominated by their parties or political bloc.”
But it is progress. If 2005 gave women a foot in the door, 2010 gives them a chance to make more of a difference. As Maysoun al-Damlouji, a prominent Sunni lawmaker explains:
“The politicians who worked mostly against women’s rights and the quota are now introducing another vision that women have to take part in the political development as well as economic and every other development that Iraq needs.”
When the parliament’s speaker quipped that women couldn’t focus on work because they’d be busy worrying that their husbands were taking other wives, the women boycotted and won an apology. Attitudes in Iraq are changing.