Failing Iraqi women

The Bush administration notes the importance of Iraqi women, but it's "too little, too late."

Published March 16, 2007 2:56PM (EDT)

Sometimes the ego boost of being able to snark, "I told you so" is overwritten by the actual penalty of your insight having been ignored. So for women's rights activists it's a tad bittersweet seeing the Bush administration recently announce that, gee, the empowerment of Iraqi women is kind of important to building a democracy in the country.

In an Op-Ed in Thursday's San Francisco Chronicle, political analyst Eileen E. Padberg tucks away her tongue and saves the finger-wagging, instead lamenting all of the missed opportunities we had along the way. She spent nearly two months in Iraq, trying to integrate women into the country's workforce. But she said her task was Sisyphean: "Our own people could not see the incredible benefits of providing equal opportunities for women."

She was briefly encouraged by the $18.4 billion the U.S. committed to the reconstruction effort, but also knew it would require an actual intent to carve out a place for women in Iraq's economy. Of course, that intent wasn't there, so it never happened. "Not only did [women] face the 'good old boy' system in Iraq -- not necessarily of Arab culture, but of American contractors -- with contracts going to those men who had built their businesses in the [coalition] provisional authority days," she continues. "Iraqi women didn't have the financial backing needed to meet the start-up requirements, nor did they have U.S. partners." It isn't just that Bush & Co. missed their shot at empowering Iraqi women, thereby strengthening the country's chance of having a real democracy, they didn't even recognize the opportunity was there, says Padberg.

Feel utterly deflated? If not, check out MADRE's recent report on gender-based violence in Iraq -- the political-spirtual equivalent of driving over a bed of nails. It not only supports Padberg's dismal assessment of women's rights in Iraq but suggests that "the best-armed and most powerful perpetrators of gender-based violence in Iraq are those militias that have been trained, funded, and armed by the United States."

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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