In Iraqi elections this Saturday, thousands of women will be asking their fellow citizens to vote for change. Of an estimated 14,400 candidates for provincial offices, nearly 4,000 are women. They’re vying for an opportunity to participate in a political process that has been dominated by men and clouded by corruption, and they’re risking their lives to do so.
“Despite dangerous circumstances that we come across everyday, we have to show our potential in politics rather than stay in our homes,” said Nibras al-Mamour, a woman running for office in Baghdad.
Some female candidates fearlessly roam the streets plastering campaign posters on buildings marked by remnants of the ongoing insurgency. But fearful of the threats, others are running more subtle campaigns, giving out small cards to voters at private gatherings, conferences, and forums. Some campaign posters featuring women’s faces have been torn or defaced, and on Wednesday, a female campaign worker was murdered in her home, amidst pre-election violence that has also killed three male candidates.
Female politicians haven’t always faced such difficulties. In the 1950s, Iraq was the first Arab country to name a female minister and adopt a progressive family laws. But since the fall of Saddam Hussein and the ascendance of religious parties, professional women in Iraq have become targets for extremists, says reporter Sahar Issa.
At the same time, Issa says, during the wars of the past several decades, people started accepting women as never before. While men fought, the number of women in the work force surged.
“If you look at history, it’s the men who go to the front to fight it’s the women who keep the front,” Issa says. “They simply have to stand up the responsibility and shoulder it.”
Though women make up more than a quarter of the candidates, many don’t expect that men will vote for women in this upcoming election.
We are seen as incapable of assuming a political seat, being considered a thief of a male place,” said Suha Hussein, a candidate in the southern province of Muthana. “When we approach a man asking for his vote, he either turns his face or he listens to us with contempt.”
Elections are being held on Saturday in 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces.