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Women's Voices on Election Day

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As Iraqi women streamed into polling centres for last week’s election, IWPR reporters sought out the views of this increasingly assertive constituency. By IWPR trainees in Iraq (ICR No. 159, 20-Dec-05)


Rusul Ali, a 35-year-old engineer in the ministry of planning, put the final touches to her make up as she prepared to go to the polling station with her husband and 15-year-old daughter.

The three, together with residents of their predominantly Shia neighbourhood, strode half a kilometre to the local polling station, as children took advantage of the election-day ban on vehicles to play soccer in the street.

"This is the third time I'm going to vote, and every time I feel my pulse dancing as if it's the first time," said Ali.

"The former governments spent their time drafting rules and the constitution," she continued. "The new government has to apply these rules and improve them to support Iraq's interests and achieve stability."

Ali believes Ayad Allawi's secular National Iraqi List is the best bet to carry out those responsibilities, though she keeps this to herself. Her husband, a supporter of the religious and more conservative Shia-led United Iraqi Alliance, wants the latter to maintain its control of parliament.

"I voted for Allawi because he is a liberal and supports women's issues," she said after casting her ballot. "I see him as a powerful man that Iraq needs right now."


Dhilal Naji is a 33-year-old divorced mother of one and an assistant to a school headmaster in Ramadi. She lives with her daughter and her parents in the city, at the western corner of the so-called Sunni Triangle.

Fighting between insurgents and US troops regularly forces schools and shops in Ramadi to close. The chaos only strengthens Naji's determination to make sure her daughter has a secure future. Naji's dream is for 3-year-old Araw to become a doctor.

Last Thursday, for once, the city’s streets were quiet, as a curfew was in force and many Sunni Arab-led insurgent groups had promised not to hit polling stations.

Like many in Ramadi, Naji did not vote in Iraq's two other polls this year. Only a handful of voting centres opened in the city in January and October due to violence.

"Even if it will cost me my life, I want to vote simply to ensure my daughter’s future," said Naji.

Naji took Arwa with her to the polling station near her house, where she voted for National Accord Front, one of the main Sunni Arab lists.

"It’s the only slate for the Sunni people that is keenly aware of our issues," said Naji. "Its main goal is to set a timetable for the Americans to pull out."

As she dropped her voting card into the ballot box, Naji looked up and saw her ex-husband. He told her he voted for the Iraqi National List.

"It seems we are different in many ways," he told her, "except in our desire to give Araw's generation a better life."


Awaz Ali, a 35-year-old primary school teacher, treated election day as a holiday. She woke up early in the morning, and prepared a meal of apricot soup, rice and meat.

Ali, her husband and her children all put on their traditional Kurdish clothing - shimmering, flowing dresses in bright hues for the women and girls, and baggy pants with wide waistbands and vests for the men and boys.

She painted the flag of Kurdistan on the cheeks of her three-year-old daughter and five-year-old son, who carried Kurdish flags to the polls.

"No one else sacrificed as much as we did, and now no one else is as happy as we are," she said, referring to her delight at voting in the election.

Women, she said, no longer fear the regime nor worry that their children will be forced to serve in the Iraqi military, which was notorious for persecuting Kurds.

And, she maintained, women now have a voice in democracy.

"You see that my husband and I went to vote together," she said as she left the polling station, holding her three-year-old daughter's hand. "Everyone now has the right to vote – and I won’t give up this right.”

Ali and her husband both backed the Kurdistan Alliance, the main Kurdish list. She believes the list will empower her people and defend their rights in Baghdad.

"We are here today because of the blood of the martyrs and the efforts of our officials," she said. "I'm sure we will continue to be victorious.”


With the morning sunrise, Fahima Dawood, 46, rose and prepared breakfast for her husband, al-Hajj Mahdi.

Dawood, known as Um Hikmat, slipped on her black abbaya and made her way to meet her brother's wife at a polling station three kilometres from their modest home.

Dawood is a Shia - her husband a Sunni Arab. The couple, who have a son in Baghdad, live in an Arab neighbourhood of the ethnically and religiously mixed city of Kirkuk

But they ended up voting along sectarian lines. She for the United Iraqi Alliance - the most powerful coalition in parliament - and he for the National Accord Front.

She admits to having a limited grasp of current Iraqi politics. But of one thing she’s certain - the new Iraqi government must guarantee women's rights.

Dawood’s husband had prevented her from voting in previous elections. "We know what is in our wives' interests," he said. "We won't do something that harms us and them as well."


For many Iraqi women, election day was a government-mandated holiday during which they could vote and spend time with their families. But Sadiyah Hamad Shanshal was not among them.

Shanshal, a squatter in a former intelligence apparatus building from Saddam Hussein's reign, spent most of the day rummaging through garbage and stuffing cans in a large plastic bag.

Her husband divorced her eight years ago, she said, and she has since provided for her seven children. She does so by selling aluminium cans, which local dealers often resell in Iran.

Her nine-year-old son, Munthir, worked with her on election day, which proved more profitable than most. Garbage workers had not collected trash in the city for several days due to strict curfews imposed before the election.

Poor families in the capital squat in deserted offices that once housed Saddam-era bureaucrats. Shanshal paid 350,000 Iraqi dinars (about 235 US dollars) to take over some space in one building.

"We're live here with 100 families,” she said. "We live in poverty and don't get help from any party."

Shanshal collected cans around a polling station where she planned to vote. She’s a Sunni Arab, but didn’t vote along sectarian lines.

"I voted for al-Jaafari's coalition," she said, referring to the United Iraqi Alliance led by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. "They didn't kick us out of our residence even though the finance ministry warned us to leave. I hope the new government will give us permanent homes."

The IWPR trainees are: Zaineb Naji and Daud Salman in Baghdad, Yasin al-Dilaimi in Ramadi, Talar Nadir in Sulaimaniyah, Samah Samad in Kirkuk.
Created by anita
Last modified 2006-01-04 05:32 AM

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