"I would make filling the stomach of the people my utmost priority"

Report: Without improvement of conditions for women and families, peace in Iraq will remain "perilously out of reach."

By Lynn Harris
Published March 4, 2008 3:04PM (EST)

You may already be aware that certain pictures painted by Afghanistan's "liberators" are a bit rosier than reality, especially when it comes to the well-being of Afghan women and girls (PDF).

As it turns out, perhaps not surprisingly, the situation in Iraq is not much better. A just-released survey of 1,500 women in Iraq by Women for Women International, a copy of which was provided this morning to Broadsheet, offers some truly head-spinning statistics. Today, fewer than one-third of Iraqi women surveyed were optimistic that conditions in Iraq would improve within a year. In a Women for Women survey of 1,000 Iraqi women in 2004, that figure was 90 percent.


-- 70 percent of respondents (all female) say their family cannot afford to pay for the necessities of daily life.

-- 76 percent said that girls in their family are not allowed to attend school.

-- 89 percent believe that someone in their family will be killed in the next year.

One woman interviewed said, "They gave us freedom and they took from us security ... but if I have to choose, I will choose safety and security."

The violence triple threat: sectarian fighting, general lawlessness and attacks directed specifically against women. In Basra, the report reminds us, "Religious vigilantes ... killed at least 40 women [in 2007] ... because of how they dressed, their mutilated bodies found with notes warning against 'violating Islamic teachings.'"

But the women surveyed said that even the quiet days do not bring real peace. They need infrastructure, economic and otherwise. They need food. "A group of women in Karbala was asked what they would do if they were in charge of the country," reads the report. "They said, 'We would first ask the Americans to leave immediately. Second, we will address the poverty situation in Iraq which is impacting us the most.' One woman added, 'If I was the president of the country, I would make filling the stomach of the people as my utmost priority.'"

As Women for Women International founder and CEO (and Iraqi native) Zainab Salbi wrote in the report -- which should be available in full on the Women for Women Web site later today -- "Unless there is a clear understanding of the obstacles and avenues to women's access to development resources and the political will to enact gender equitable policies, any blueprint for sustainable peace risks being placed perilously out of reach ... Peace means having three meals a day, a job, and a home to come back to. These are the prosaic triumphs of sustainable peace in stable societies, and they would not be possible without women. The front-line and back-line discussions must be held at the same negotiating table for real peace to materialize. It is time for women to be involved, not just in symbolic ways, but through full participation at every level, from the family dinner table, to community councils, to the United Nations. Strong women lead to strong nations."

Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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