IRAQ: Female MPs Slam Under-Representation in Iraq

Sunday, December 26, 2010
Western Asia
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Female MPs, both religious and secular, have slammed the under-representation of women in Iraqi institutions, especially government, sparking public soul-searching by male parliamentarians.

On Saturday night parliament adopted a resolution affirming that "the issue of women is a priority" and creating a monitoring committee on women's affairs, Speaker Omar al-Nujaifi announced.

"It is unfair that there is no woman vice president, and we want to have a role in decision-making and to be a real partner," Safia al-Suhail, an MP from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law list, told parliament on Saturday.

Hanan Fatlawi, another female State of Law MP, said that "Maliki has promised that women would be represented in the government, but I am not optimistic that they will receive an important position."

The debate began on Tuesday, with parliament approving a cabinet with just one female member -- Bushra Hussein Saleh from the small religious party Fadhila -- as a minister of state without portfolio.

The lack of women in the cabinet, which still has 10 posts that have not yet been filled, sparked immediate condemnation.
"I even suggest, Mr Maliki, that you choose a man for the ministry of women's rights, as you do not have confidence in women," Kurdish MP Ala Talabani said to applause in parliament on Tuesday.

Under the Iraqi constitution, 25 percent of MPs must be women, although there is no quota for the number of women in the cabinet.

"I am astonished at the absence of women in the government," said Aatab al-Duri, a female MP with ex-premier Iyad Allawi's secular Iraqiya bloc, after giving a presentation in parliament on Saturday on "the suffering of women."

The outcry by female MPs led to calls for improvements in women's rights from male parliamentarians, including those belonging to religious parties.

"We have to cultivate a society with a new humanitarian way of thinking, which doesn't put differences between women and men, but rather places differences between the qualified and unqualified persons among men and women," said ex-premier Ibrahim al-Jaafari, from the Shiite fundamentalist Dawa party.

Other MPs from religious parties expressed similar sentiments.

"It is a shame that women face injustice," said Baha al-Araji from radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc. "The Islamic parties didn't give women their rights.

"We have to take care of women by issuing laws guaranteeing their rights," he said.

"The constitution guarantees that women be present in the institutions of state, but the political parties did not respect the constitution," said Sheikh Sabah al-Saadi of Fadhila, wearing the white turban and brown cloak of a religious leader.

"The interests of the parties do not have to be an obstacle to women's rights," he added.

Maliki has blamed the parties themselves for not submitting enough female candidates, and said the lack of women was one of the reasons for his delay in naming the 10 remaining cabinet posts.

"I find myself obliged... to wait for the political entities to present women candidates," he said on Tuesday.