Council on Foreign Relations
NANCY ROMAN (vice president, director, CFR): I'm Nancy Roman, vice president and director of the Council on Foreign Relations. And as you know, we have a habit of beginning on time.
I want to welcome you to the 8th in our series on "Iraq: The Way Forward." Many of you have said to me personally, or to other people on the team, that you were eager to hear from real Iraqis. It's very difficult to understand what's happening on the ground. And we've had a lot of discussion here about people who have traveled to or been part of government, but this is our opportunity to hear from you, and we are delighted.
I want to give a personal thanks to Haleh Esfandiari, who's a friend and, of course, a member of the council and our presider this evening. But she helped me assemble this. And I would also like to thank Hattie Babbitt and the Initiative for Inclusive Security, who brought these women here. They've been very generous in sharing you all with us. So thank you very much.
And I would also just encourage you, if you have ideas for this series, please contact myself or Jennifer Golden, who deserves a big thanks.
HALEH ESFANDIARI: Thank you very much, Nancy. It's very interesting to sit at this side of the room rather than always sit in the other side of the room!
Today's meeting presents us really with a rare opportunity for two reasons. First, we have with us a distinguished group of Iraqi women who, except for one, live and work in Iraq. And second, they have agreed to give us a sense what it is like to live and work in Iraq today.
We have two parliamentarians, a former Cabinet minister, and two civil society activists. To my right is Judge Zakia Hakki. She is the first woman to be appointed as a judge. She was appointed in 1959; 1959 is a very important year in the history of Iraq because that's when this family law, the personal status law of Iraq was drafted, and what we hear from our friends from Iraq, our women friends, including our panelists, is that they are trying to really convince their colleagues who are very involved in drafting the constitution, the parliamentarians, in maintaining that law, and rather than trying to Islamize the law. Because their argument, as you will hear later, is that this 1959 personal status law is anyway based on the Shari'a.
Next to Zakia is Hanaa Edwar. I call her "Madame Civil Society in Iraq." She's one of the most active people who does civil society work and works with women NGOs. Next to her is Basma Fakri, and she has been living in this country for the last 20 years, and she's the co-director for Women's Alliance for Free (Democratic) Iraq, and works both with the diaspora and the Iraqi women. To my left is Mishkat Al Moumin. She was the former minister of Environment in Iyad Allawi's government. And next to her is Ala Talabani, a member of parliament and an activist on women's issues in Kurdistan.
We will start with you, Judge Zakia. You work in the Green Zone, you live in the Green Zone, but you spend a lot of time outside the Green Zone. I remember on many occasions calling you in Baghdad and you telling me—I say okay, goodbye until next time. And you said, well, if I'm still alive next time. And we have had several times this—you know, we invited you to come and meet with us outside Iraq, and you spent 24 hours at Iraq—at Baghdad Airport waiting for your plane to come to take you. So give us a sense what it—what life looks like in Baghdad.
ZAKIA HAKKI: Good evening. Good evening.
Actually, I feel I have the honor to be with you, and it is so nice to be here with you and to tell you what I think you are all are aware was going on in Baghdad. But we feel—as Freud said, if you want to feel you are alive every morning, build your home on the mouth of the volcano. We are on the mouth of a volcano. (Laughter.) So anytime when I used to go outside the Green Zone, they tell me, well. we have the next meeting at 6:00 evening. I said, oh, if I am still alive, I will be back. I don't know, because when you are risking your life crossing the river going downtown Baghdad, only God knows what will happen to you during that time.
So once I faced and survived an assassination attempt. It was August 2004. After one month I have been invited to come to New York to participate in the UNIFEM conference for women judges around the world. And actually they surprised how I came how when in that condition I couldn't walk. Well, but as long as I am still alive, I shall continue.
We are not so special or courageous. We have no choice. We should prevent—there will be no more any police state in Iraq. For more than 35 dark, bloody years we suffered a lot, so we have to build our free, democratic state of law to replace the police state of Saddam.
Well, this is, I think, the life, you know, about what's going on, but actually, as I am an elected member for the new permanent parliament for the upcoming four years, I will join the committee of rewriting the constitution. Well, we have—I don't know I can say something about that because I feel we should—yeah—I—only five minutes? Okay. (Laughs.)
Actually, we need to secure the rights that we have had now in the constitution. We have, for instance, the right of citizenship—mothers can give Iraqi citizenship to her children if her husband is a foreigner, is not Iraqi. This is in article 18 of the constitution.
Also, we need to secure our rights in political, economical and social equality, which is the Article number 14; equal opportunity, which is in Article 16; power sharing. Although we have now 32 percent women representation in the Parliament, but still on the ground, in the reality, we are still unrecognized.
Now, there is these negotiations and dialogue between the leaders of all parties, but there is not even a single woman with them, while this is so crucial. Now they are forming the new government for Iraq, why we shouldn't be there to see? This is our future, the future of our new generation of our children. So that's what we need to secure it.
ESFANDIARI: I think I am going to stop—
HAKKI: The quota also. We need to secure that. And we have a lot to add, to amend, a lot of articles.
When you ask me, I will (expand ?) that. Thank you so much. Sorry.
ESFANDIARI: Thank you.
Hanaa, let's move to you because you work with women on the ground, you know what their concerns are, what their life is like. Give us a sense of what the—
HANAA EDWAR: I am living in the—hi, everybody. I am pleased to be here with you and to give you some—
ESFANDIARI : The mike needs to be turned on.
EDWAR: Yeah. Now. Hi, everybody. And I am very pleased to be with you in this evening and also to share with you some information that we are living there in Baghdad and other cities of Iraq.
I am living in a red zone, what we call it always. Not in the Green Zone, in the red zone. But I enjoy to live there, to be with my people and to work hard with them together. It's not easy life when you are living with only six hours electricity the whole day, or if we are very pleasured, we will get it 12 hours in a day. And you can imagine, with the heat of over 50 degrees Centigrade. And if you imagine, plus for that, there is no fuel enough in the station, in the gas station. And Baghdad is a very big city, where it consists of 6 million, and people, they have to move, for instance, sometimes for one hour, and now it is two hours because it is a traffic jam.
So what was the decision of the Ministry of Transportation? It is a brilliant initiative they took. They said this day it will be the – what's it called—
ESFANDIARI: the odd numbers?
EDWAR: Yeah, the odd numbers. And it makes really chaos of the life of the people because they have only one car, and this one car, it has only one number. So how they can carry their children from this to carry them for the school? And this is one thing. And bringing children to school. Near where I live, there is a school. I am seeing every day mothers, fathers, parents, they are very worried about their children. And sometimes they stand, the parents, you know, the whole day waiting that the children will finish their school, to get them out from the school because we have many incidents where schools have been bombed. And I have seen one of these nearby our office, and it was terrible to see children crying, and they don't know where to go and injured and so on. And it is—this is really the trauma of the children of Iraq. They are living wars—they are living such terrible lives during the war days, the whole years, and now also still going on.
And if you can imagine, you know, suddenly there is car explosions everywhere. You just walk in the street. You just been in a place. You don't know in this place. Nearby our office, also there is a church where in this church in 2004 also it was the explosions in this church, and I was terrified looking. Woman, pregnant woman in her last pregnancy, she was running with her mother and terrifying and so on. I took her and bring her to give her some—and take her—but people are very, very, you know, in such situation. How you can help? What you can do?
Women, especially for women, when they are really caring for their families, so for that. And this one things. This is for the ordinary people that we really will miss the ordinary or the daily living conditions that every nation—they are living on. There are—they are displaced people. Displaced people. They are people under the hotspots, in Anbar or in Najaf or elsewhere. Ever day there is such operations—military operations. When you ever think about these people, how they live, you know, and this is terribly we are living in such situation. That's how we can survive. How people—they can go through since 1980 until now it is going on, going on, going on.
So that's why we are as women's organizations and civil society organizations asking that we want to put an end. We want peace. We want security. We want to live in a such—all the people in the world they are living in a very peaceful way. We don't want so much things. We have—we own our country, so we want to live in this country in a peaceful way and in safety for the children and for everybody, and that's, I think, the aim of all over the world.
ESFANDIARI: Thank you, Hanaa.
Let me move to you, Ala Noori. You – you're a member of parliament. You work in the Green Zone, but you've traveled a lot through Kirkuk. And tell us, you know, the contrast between a place like Kirkuk and Baghdad.
ALA NOORI TALABANI: And I live in a Red Zone.
ESFANDIARI: Yeah, and you live also in the Red Zone, and—
TALABANI: Good evening. It's my pleasure tonight to be among you. My friends is asking me, really, I was like trying to think over, is there a chance for me to touch upon all these difficulties. It's not easy for a member of parliament or an official government employee to be working inside Green Zone and to be living outside in the Red Zone, which means that you will have be both sides and the challenges—what is means being there.
Personally, it's a nightmare that on a daily basis during my night, in my sleep, I have that I will have this dream. I found myself among those dead bodies that I would see on the news on daily basis, and then, I will wake up in the early morning, and I am saying thanks for that I am alive. But then, when I am trying to wash my face, I am asking myself a question, why am I taking a risk? I've been living in Kurdistan. I had a good job, and I've been living in a safe, secure area, at least comparing with the rest of Iraq. It's a wonderful place to be. But then, telling myself, pushing myself, encouraging myself and saying that I have to be here because we have to work to create a new future for the next generation; that they have a hope on us, and they wanted the things to be changed for the better for them. So it—simply I am saying, "Okay, I'm going to use old—(inaudible) —old vehicles, my bodyguards—I have to make sure that none of them—they are wearing a uniform because that will—attention of the people on the street."
And the second things is telling my driver, "Try not get to a traffic. Take a shortcut." And then once you get to the—crossing the Red Zone to the Green Zone and then you are saying that I am fine. And then I will think to call my mom because she lost three sons, and personally, our family, we have lost so many. It's 60 persons from my own family. So I am telling you that, mom, I am okay and I am in the Green Zone, which it means it's a safe, secure area.
And when I'm going back at the end of the day after those hard discussions that we will have in the parliament, I will search my neighborhood in Baghdad because none of us has information or knowledge about the culture of parliament and what it means to be a parliament. What are our tasks? What are our responsibility? What am I—I can't do it for them. One of them, she is telling me, "You know, we have a problem with our electricity again. This 24 hours we will not have it because we had a problem with a tower." And the other one's telling me, "When you are going to pass the law of retirement people? Because, you know, they are—we do not have a law." But hopefully we have passed it last month. And the other one is telling me that my daughter – she's being graduated from this college and she wants to be employed, and could you write a letter for me to x minister of—you know, make me a favor? And I am trying to tell them, you know, "I cannot write these letter. I do not know that minister. He or she's not a Kurd, and she's not a friend of mine. I cannot write it simply."
But then I think, like—then these people, they cannot get to these ministers easily because of the security reason. And after end of the, like, spending two weeks in Baghdad and when I—am I thinking, like, "I am going out. I am going back to home. I am going to Kirkuk." Then I have to think who's going to drive back to Kirkuk because I have to drive back all the way. It's like five hours driving, and it has in the middle of that 45 kilometers on daily basis—people are being killed, being kidnapped, ambushed—different ministers been in that position. Imagine a convoy of ministers in that ambush. So I am thinking, "Am I going to make it?" And my sisters, they are calling me because I do not have any more brothers. They are calling me and they are telling me, "Ala, are you coming back this weekend?" And I'm saying, "I do not know yet. I didn't decide that." But frankly speaking, I am in my way. But I did not wanted to tell them that I am there because then they will have a hard time. And when I will cross that specific area, I am saying, "Thanks for God. I am in a safe area."
Then you will face a new problem—once you will get to Kirkuk and you will pass by this neighborhood where—we are Kirkuki and we are Kurd and we have been born in Kirkuk, but we are displaced, simply thousands and thousands of us, and most of them, they are—(inaudible) —and they have families. It's like they are the head of the families, composed at least five kids, and they are living in a—(inaudible) —in a public building. And is the—I mean, face-to-face because we are from the same city and some of them, they know me and they are asking me, "You did nothing for us, so we do not get—(inaudible) —house." Most of them, they have their own house in Kirkuk. But because of the previous government policy—that he has been confiscated these houses, these people been displaced, and now they get home, but they found that others are living in their house. It may be not the first time, but it's certainly not fair. And we do not have yet a law to deal with this. We—in papers, we've got commissions, we've got teams, but practically, we do not know how to approach it, how to get to these things. And this is how we are living and spending days and night.
Thank you very much.
ESFANDIARI: Thank you.
And now to Mishkat. You were—you are a former minister. You set up a ministry. Tell us a bit what was it like to be a minister to have—and did you have an American adviser? Did you have a budget? If you had a problem, to whom could you go? Where was your ministry? But very briefly, please.
MISHKAT AL MOUMIN: Thank you. Thank you all for having me here. My name is Mishkat Al Moumin. I used to be a lecturer of human rights in Baghdad University. I lived all my life under Saddam's regime, and I managed to lecture human rights there and keep my head over my shoulders.
When I got—(scattered applause.) Thank you. It was so difficult, but I managed.
When I first got appointed as a minister of Environment, I knew that I had a difficult job simply because Iraq did not have a Ministry of Environment before. So actually, there was no ministry. When I entered to my office, there was no office, no telephone, no Internet, no computer, no chair to sit on. I managed to structure the ministry, to have an organization chart; to have operational manual—or daily operational manual regulations.
The biggest challenge was to get the support of my employees. Like I did with my students, I gathered them all and I asked them, "What do you think environment means?" And all of them kept silent. By encouraging each one of them, we decided, both together, that environment is the third generation of a human right, and Iraqi people are entitled to a clean and a healthy environment.
We took together a couple of actions. First of all, we needed to demonstrate that. We started to distribute water in areas of disaster and areas of hardship. We did a huge campaign in al-Sadr City, in Najaf and Fallujah, and in the dearest area to my heart, the Iraqi marshlands. Later on, we managed to seek the support of the international community. The budget was the second-lowest budget in the whole Cabinet. It was $7 million only. I managed to raise it to $10,000 (doubles ?). One of the projects that we had with the World Bank was $50 million—11 for the marshlands—$11 million; $3.5 million for the depleted uranium.
It wasn't an easy job. I survived two attempts over my life. In the first attempt, four of my bodyguards were killed, one of them was injured while we were running and someone was shooting at us. I ended that day by attending a meeting at the Cabinet and I went to the ministry and I was among my employees just to show them that I am strong by being among them. And when I went home that day, I drove alone with my car.
The thing that I'm proud most of doing is fighting corruption in the ministry. I managed to set up some financial regulation that helped in reducing corruption. I punished two of my deputies after I caught them red-handed. One of them is in jail now. He managed to threat(en) me, and he came to my office saying it's not a secure environment. I told him, "Fine. Do whatever in your capacity." I faced some hardship. He threat(ened) my family, he threat(ened) me personally. He threat(ened) each legal investigator who investigate the issues. On top of them was the general inspector.
If I have to come with a recommendation to anyone who would like to work in Iraq, first of all, we should never ask any Iraqi employee to do anything before we do it first. I never lived in a Green Zone and I refused to have a safe house; I returned it back to the government. I rent a small house and live like an ordinary person among my employees.
I was—the second thing that I would like to comment is documentation. We need to document everything, and I insist a lot on it. I have my personal documentation and the ministry has its own documentation.
Use law as a legal weapon. This was also my advice.
And thank you.
ESFANDIARI: Thank you.
Basma, very quickly to you. You are based here, but you work with Iraqis in Iraq. Do you get a sense that in recent—maybe in the last year or in recent months there is an exodus of the people who went back to Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein? Are they sending back their families, or are they coming? Or what is your take on that?
BASMA FAKRI: Can you hear?
ESFANDIARI: I think you have to press that.
FAKRI: Okay, thank you.
Hello, everyone. Thank you for having us after working hours. I know it's not easy.
But I think Iraq is going through a crucial time now. And I don't live in the Green Zone or the Red Zone; I live in a free zone. I live in the U.S. So it's a great privilege, great gift to have freedom. So we thought after the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein, we can help. Since my family, you know, family reasons, I can't go and help there, so I thought I can help from here, with Internet, with communication, you know, phone calls, and we meet other people. Some of our ex-pats, they went in Iraq, like Judge Zakia, and they helped with the reconstruction of Iraq, and some of them are still going in and out.
The most important part, what the international community can do to help Iraq so this operation will be successful. So the men and women in uniform who sacrifice their lives, it won't go to waste, we have to support them in any way we can. And that's what we are doing with our small group as the Iraqi American women or Iraqi women inside Iraq, we have men with us, and we have a volunteer group which we try to bring the voice of Iraqi women outside. Like last time, Hanaa, she couldn't make it to the United Nations to address the Security Council, so I went in her spot. So it's a matter of networking and helping each other. And everybody can help from his or her spot.
ESFANDIARI: I didn't get an answer to my question, but I'm going to open the floor now. We now invite the council members to join in the discussion. Please wait for the microphone and speak directly into it, and stand and speak your name and affiliation. But please try and be brief. And I would like also the panelists to be very brief in answering.
Yes, please? The microphone is coming.
QUESTIONER: Where is it? Oh! Thank you. I'm Pat Holt. And I would like to ask Judge Hakki, if I'm pronouncing that right, about the administration – she's a judge, and I'd like to ask about the administration of justice in Iraq. What is the jurisdiction of your court? What kind of cases do you hear? Are they civil, criminal? What means do you have to enforce your decisions?
HAKKI: It's a very good question. First of all, I have been appointed as the first female judge in Iraq and Middle East. It was February 9, 1959. Well, actually at that time we didn't have judicial—an institute to learn. Just after we had been graduated from law school, I had had practice as a lawyer then. The new government after the overthrow of the monarchy which occurred—it was 14th of July 1958, they announced that all Iraqis, they are equal regardless of sex, ethnicity, color, et cetera if they will pass the exam. So, you know, I have had exam and I have the first, actually, "A" level among all those (who they came ?), so they appointed me as a judge.
Well, our legal system—actually since 1921, the establishment of Iraq as a state after the First World War, we were under the domination of Ottoman Empire for more than 400 years. So the new monarchy regime—we have had experts during it was at that time domination of British Empire in Baghdad and Iraq and India at that time. We have had experts, British experts. Actually, we owe them a lot. They were in the Ministry of Justice until the end of the Second World War. (Audio break.)
(In progress following audio break)—of Ba'ath Party, that's enough. And there is no any appeal, there is no any supreme court, anything, only that they call it the revolutionary court. Even we have had in the presidential—(inaudible word)—court, which some of them, the judge was his bodyguard. Ninety-nine percent (and nine ?) was execution. Sometimes they have already killed the victim before they will issue the order. That's what happened and that was the legal system of Saddam.
But the regular legal system at that time, they were just working and very limited because, as the law that they issued, they couldn't have all their authorities to work. That was then. But now thank God that I am still alive to see the end of the tyrant that he murdered my husband, my brother, my four first cousins. We didn't receive bodies, simply because they melted them in acid bath. That's the kind of, you know, type of leaders that we have had. Nothing in the world can pay America for liberating my people from the tyrant and the tyranny. It is without—it was priceless. I don't know how can I describe that. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I will see the end of Saddam.
ESFANDIARI: In the back, back, back. Just wait for the microphone, please.
QUESTIONER: (Name inaudible)—from the Pentagon. The question is to any of you ladies of the panel. Other than the fact that we are aware that the U.S. armed forces is there with much larger number than any of the coalition, is there any other reasons you would like to state here that can contribute to the larger number of U.S. casualties than the rest of the coalition?
And the second question is, even though you may highlight it your speech last, if we could go back in time, do you, Iraqis in general and Iraqi women in particular, think you were better off under Saddam's regime than you are today?
ESFANDIARI: Who is going to take this? Ala? But please be very brief.
TALABANI (?): Definitely we are better. Today we are better than the past. And simply because our past days we have spent in jails and been tortured and been raped and been killed. And in the term of the casualties, there are—for Iraqi women, we have a good reason to tell the American Army to stay in Iraq, simply because yet we do not have a rule of law in the country. The Iraqi Ministry of Defense—they infiltrated with the insurgency, and simply in the buildings out there—police, they are scaring you. I mean, they are telling you, "This captain, he was sending information back to the insurgency," then you'll think that maybe he's—what color of my clothes and when I was going out.
And the other reason—in Iraq today we are fighting to have one personal statute of family law that we had in 1959, and today party leaders and Islamists, they are trying to make the diversity of Iraq in the affinity of religious background, even worse than it is right now. So we are looking forward to have their support. It's just not the military. It's diplomat support. It is your contribution that already exists in terms of the international and—(inaudible). They are helping the Iraqi women to get with the idea—with what kind—what will be our family law. That will unite all the Iraq across Kurdistan to the south of Iraq, and unify Iraq.
QUESTIONER: Can I—
ESFANDIARI: We'll get back to you. Just—yes. Please just speak towards the mike. That's why I'll give you the—(inaudible.)
QUESTIONER: Thank you. My name is Ayako Doi.
For those of us who don't know much about Islamic religion or society, this religion seems to impose such an unbearable restrictions on women, from our point of view. And that's why when we hear about the election results that seem to show the gain by the religiously backed candidates, we worry. And then I'm just wondering from you who live in the Islamic society, is Islam bad for women?
MS. : No.
ESFANDIARI: Who wants—Basma, you want to, then—yes, you start, and then we'll go to Hanaa.
FAKRI: Okay. Unfortunately, Islam been portrayed as very bad for women, which is—if you go back in history when Islam came, at that time, they used to bury women, girls alive. Islam came and forbid that. We have a lot of laws like—Prophet Mohammed—he married one—when she was—(inaudible) —when she was alive, he didn't marry another woman while she was alive. And she was older than him, and she was a merchant, and she asked him for marriage. So as you can see, at that time, that was a big advancement at that time.
Free—you know, Islam tried to deal with the local customs, which is still—(inaudible) —Islam at this time. Some of them, they are not Islamic, of course, but some of them are Islamic, and we tried to put it forward now, try to work with the Islamic laws, which is different sects and different, you know, like, Shi'ites, and each one of them. So that's why we try to make the Shari'a—it won't apply to all of us. We want the status law, the personal status law to be there.
However, Islam is a good religion, and it gives people—because people, they went through a lot, it gave them power at that time. But this time we try to make, you know, the women's rights to be our main target now, to make it—how you say it—to be addressed within the new environment, within the new era, within this century. So that's the problems we are having now. But Islam, as it is, it's a good religion. I don't think we have—
ESFANDIARI: All right. Hanaa, did you want to add something to it?
EDWAR: Yeah, just that, you know, I am not Islam, not a Muslim woman, but I am telling you I have, you know, raise up in our country which the country that people they believe aren't religious, but they are not sectarian on that.
They are not, you know, sectarian on this belief. They are opened. In all our constitution's promises the beginning of Iraq, there was mentioning Islam is the official religion of the state, but that is nothing to do with the people's traditions. Women—they were educated. Women—they were working. Women—we have this family law, the progressive one in the—Arab regions. We were women also in the political life participating. But what is happening these days? It is because of three wars we have gone on, international sanctions on our people. It is not Islam's. I believe you, it is the way of the Islamist political—you know, this is what's going on now.
It is not in our country too—it is in the whole Middle East and in the world also is speaking about. It is not Islam. Islam is a religion of peace, is a religion of love, is a religion of all the religions in the world trying to make brotherhood and sisterhood all over. So it is not the religion. It is the practice of the people. They are using the Islam as a cover for their own interest, and that is we have to be facing with them, and we have to say no for that.
QUESTIONER: Carmen Delgado—
ESFANDIARI: Could you just wait for the microphone?
QUESTIONER: Carmen Delgado, Voter Alliance for Children and Families. I'd like to ask Ms. Edwar and Ms. Talabani what percentage of the women in Iraq today sort of feel like you do and have a sense that they have a chance to change history? And also, if you can comment on what the role of the United Nations has been in the plight of the Iraqi women.
TALABANI: Okay. Frankly speaking, I do not have figures because simply we do not know how many of the population we are composing as a women (in this state ?). But the majority—and it's more than 95 percent of those women that on daily basis, I see them, they feel like me, and even they're telling me that you are lucky because you've got a chance, and you are in the parliament. And we are willing—that once we will get a chance to be somewhere, maybe in the council cities or municipality, and there are thousand—tens of women activists across the country that they are involved in raising awareness among the rest of the population and mainly the rural area with whom are the illiterate people.
And the role of the United Nations—I mean, they do not have the role that we were expecting—(audio break)—a big international organization to have. And simply because of that accident that had happened to the headquarter, they pull out their staff, and they are living in Amman. So it's not easy to approach them by the grassroot organization, except for those that already they have established a relation with them.
ESFANDIARI: Hanaa, can you—(off mike)—on that?
EDWAR: Yeah. According to the statistic of the Planning Ministry that was published in 2004, it was said that women working in the public sectors, they were more than 46 percent, so this is – it's a great number that women working in public—in the governmental level. So this is also what—in our statistic saying that women are consisted more than 55 percent of the population in the—of Iraq. We are 26 million, so if you can consider that 55 seats almost about, you know, 14 or something like that to women—14 million. So it's a big number. And we have also that more than between 11 and 14 that percent women are widows, or they are simply no leading their families because of wars, because of all these terrible plight that we can gone through.
So women are really in—how we say—practicing, or they are getting the role in the family, in their economic situation, and also in social life. So how we can get all this terrible plight to be improved? This is—we have to empower women. We have to give more assistance for women to be really, you know, enjoying their—to get them—to get them, you know, trying to (aid ?) their family without, you know—I will give you an example.
In one conference in Karabilah—we were there in October, beginning of October—widows of—11 widows from one village, they came to this conference. They attended the conference. One of them, she stood after that—they were shy at the beginning, but she stood and said, I would like to tell you we don't want mercy from you. We need that you are empowering us, you educate us, you give us something—skill so we can go and work and we (aid ?) our families and children.
And that is we need, really. We are working on that. Opening literacy centers, training women on handicrafts, opening for them opportunities for education, continue their educations, as well as we have to empower them in a social and to make them more aware about living conditions. And the, how you say it, the social traditions. We have to break that—to break down the bad (works ?) of the social traditions, of the tribes, of people under the pretext of religious they are trying to impose upon women a certain way of life, certain style of life.
We have to do a lot of work, and this is really on international level that you have to do to back and to support such programs of empowering women. And women should be, indeed, making decisions position. This is what we are—this is the challenge that we are working for, and we are looking to be not only in the parliament, but it should be extended all over the government and institutions.
ESFANDIARI: (Off mike.) Yes.
QUESTIONER: My name is Celina Realuyo and I'm at the State Department. (In Arabic.)
First, on behalf of all of us, I need to take the opportunity to really congratulate you and commend you on your personal courage and your service to your country. I think we just really are indebted to—for you to take time to tell us what's really going on in Iraq.
Many of you alluded to the problem of security—personal security, and for those who are trying to begin a business or are taking a look at establishing ministries and hiring those who are going to be working for you, whether it's at the U.S. embassy or at any of regulative ministries or courts that you're working in. How do you think that coalition forces and, more importantly, the indigenous population in Iraq can work constructively? Because as we've seen, the insurgency has moved towards attacking the civilian component as opposed to that.
TALABANI: I understand you'd like an idea about the insurgency as being moved to the (province ?). Is that your question? And how can fight it?
(Off mike consultations.)
TALABANI: Non-military target—targeting civilians? I think targeting civilians is a method or a tactic used by the insurgency to give the government or the current government a hard time, that the government will look uncapable of securing security to Iraqi people.
If you would like my input, how can we encounter that? It has to do a lot with the political process. You have to include people, more people, in the political process. And this is why you have to include women in the political process. If you don't include people, women and other social group, you will end up building another dictatorship. This is what we are trying to avoid.
One important or other important factor is that the women movement is capable of bridging among Iraqi sectors. They address Iraqi women as Iraqis, not as Sunni women or Shi'a women or Kurdish women. If we build up all that by employing women in the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense as well, we can reach out more to the Iraqi people and we can secure security.
QUESTIONER: Hi. Dr. Steve Wesbrook, Institute for Defense Analysis.
As a soldier who has led soldiers in two wars and as a historian, I have some sense of the horror of war and the sacrifice, but also of this intense human desire that the sacrifice be worthwhile. Many Iraqis and many Americans have sacrificed in the last three years. And as you look forward to peace that will sometime occur, what do you think will be necessary for the families of Iraq to believe that this sacrifice has been worthwhile? And especially for the families that have lost family members, is there anything the United States can do to help in the reconciliation and in the healing process?
ESFANDIARI: Who wants to take this? (Off mike.)
EDWAR: It's not we have sacrificed a lot during the last years, and especially in three years ago. And we believe that it is not easy for any family to lose now more. And this is—we are believing that how we can stop this. For that our Iraqi believing, and for that you can see from the three times in a year Iraqi people going to ballot boxes and they voted. The last time—the last elections, 70 percent people went to vote. What does it mean? People, they still feel hope. They really—they want change. They want to have really freedoms. They want to have—live in peace. Otherwise, have you ever seen in other countries how much percent that people they are voting? In Egypt it is less than 23 percent. But in Iraq, in three times—in January 2005, in October 15 and in December 15—people, you know, queuing, queuing, and they are believing that there will be change in their life. And this is, I think—that is the meaning that though that with the bomb, with the sacrifices, with the explosions, with the terrible and miserable that daily we are facing, but people still they didn't lose hope.
QUESTIONER: Juliana Pilon with the Institute of World Politics. First of all, I would like to express, if I may, I think for everyone in this room, enormous respect that I know we all feel for every one of you. And I would like to express gratitude for your courage, as a human—not speaking as an American, but as another human being. And I really wish that CNN or C-SPAN or one of these television—you know, television—these newscasters had been here to record every one of your words and get the sense of it not only in writing, which I'm sure all the press here will do. But I wish the whole country and the whole world would listen to you. But that's not what I wanted to ask you.
What I want is something—I just have to thank you.
It's really very moving to listen to you, and the words come very simply, but what you're expressing is to most of us absolutely unthinkable. And thank you.
I would like to ask specifically—to follow up on Hanaa Edwar's point about helping, and also Ms. Talabani's point about helping everyone in a way, how to help yourselves. What would you say have been some of the initiatives that the United States has sponsored so far that you feel have been particularly useful, and what would you like to see more? I assume similar things like, you know, building schools and infrastructure. What more would you like to see?
ESFANDIARI: One minute—
HAKKI: Well, actually—actually, just—well, because she—okay. I need actually to express my gratitude and thanks. I thank you for your very kind words about us. But believe me, if you are in our situation in Baghdad, you will act the same way. We have no choice; we should exist and resist. There will be no more, no more police state like how much we suffered. We don't need—we don't want our new generation to suffer as we suffered.
So thank you so much again for your very kind words for us. But as I told you, we are not super, but we have to struggle for our future. And we have to be there, and we must—and we will prevail. We will prevail. We believe in that. It will not—going to be changed overnight, but we are there and we will prevail.
EDWAR: I'd like to add something to that.
ESFANDIARI: Thirty seconds only, that's all you have left, and I have to—.
EDWAR: Yes, yes. Yes.
It is very important to speak that now we are challenging the amendment of the constitution. And U.S. can play very important role in this amendment to secure the rights of women, to secure the equality, to secure the implementation of the International Human Rights Conventions; to secure also that there will be no discriminations against women in the constitution and in the implementation of this constitution within legislations and other. This is very much needed, and we think that U.S. mission or U.S. embassy, U.S. ambassador can play main role in this amendment.
ESFANDIARI: Thank you very much. It's 7:30 and our time is up. I know there are more questions, but there are very rigid rules here.
I would like to thank the panelists. (Applause.)
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