Women in Iraq

Women in Iraq: Past Meets Present

Noga Efrati
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/efra15814
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Women in Iraq
    Book Description:

    Noga Efrati outlines the first social and political history of women in Iraq during the periods of British occupation and the British-backed Hashimite monarchy (1917--1958). She traces the harsh and long-lasting implications of British state building on Iraqi women, particularly their legal and political enshrinement as second-class citizens, and the struggle by women's rights activists to counter this precedent. Efrati concludes with a discussion of post-Saddam Iraq and the women's associations now claiming their place in government. Finding common threads between these two generations of women, Efrati underscores the organic roots of the current fight for gender equality shaped by a memory of oppression under the monarchy.

    Efrati revisits the British strategy of efficient rule, largely adopted by the Iraqi government they erected and the consequent gender policy that emerged. The attempt to control Iraq through "authentic leaders" -- giving them legal and political powers -- marginalized the interests of women and virtually sacrificed their well-being altogether. Iraqi women refused to resign themselves to this fate. From the state's early days, they drew attention to the biases of the Tribal Criminal and Civil Disputes Regulation (TCCDR) and the absence of state intervention in matters of personal status and resisted women's disenfranchisement. Following the coup of 1958, their criticism helped precipitate the dissolution of the TCCDR and the ratification of the Personal Status Law. A new government gender discourse shaped by these past battles arose, yet the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, rather than helping cement women's rights into law, reinstated the British approach. Pressured to secure order and reestablish a pro-Western Iraq, the Americans increasingly turned to the country's "authentic leaders" to maintain control while continuing to marginalize women. Efrati considers Iraqi women's efforts to preserve the progress they have made, utterly defeating the notion that they have been passive witnesses to history.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53024-8
    Subjects: History, Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. INTRODUCTION THE HISTORICAL SETTING
    (pp. 1-19)

    A brief review of Iraq’s development, its regimes, and modes of governance and an outline of the political and socioeconomic realities that emerged from the time the British took over from the Ottoman rulers until a military coup overthrew the Hashemite government in 1958 is essential to understand the context in which the old “new” state of Iraq constructed women as second-class citizens.

    Under the Ottoman Empire, the area that now forms the state of Iraq was divided into three provinces,¹ Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul. The Ottomans, who governed these provinces from the sixteenth century, left a legacy that would...

  6. 1 OCCUPATION, MONARCHY, AND CUSTOMARY LAW: TRIBALIZING WOMEN
    (pp. 20-50)

    Customary law, or “tribal custom” as British officials often called it, was a central component of the government gender discourse in Iraq. It became an integral part of this discourse through the Tribal Criminal and Civil Disputes Regulation. Introduced by British occupying forces during World War I and remaining in force until the overthrow of the monarchy, the TCCDR sanctioned settlement of disputes among the rural population in accordance with “tribal methods” and “tribal law.” Much has been written about the TCCDR, the way it eased British control over Iraq, and how it reflected the British occupiers’ perception of the...

  7. 2 FAMILY LAW AS A SITE OF STRUGGLE AND SUBORDINATION
    (pp. 51-85)

    In the new state of Iraq, Islamic law was another important component of the Hashemite government’s gender discourse. An unfavorable interpretation of this law became part of that discourse mainly through efforts to set laws that would be applied in the shari‘a state courts and govern legal procedures pertaining to family relations, including marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance rights.

    This chapter looks briefly at British policy that left these rules pertaining to family matters in the hands of religious authorities despite opposition to this course of action. It then focuses on state attempts to intervene by way of legislation....

  8. 3 POLITICS, ELECTION LAW, AND EXCLUSION
    (pp. 86-110)

    Government gender discourse, as it emerged from the legal system of the new Iraqi state, left female citizens unprotected. Turning to the political system, we find that government discourse marginalized them even further, excluding them from formal politics altogether. The Constitution and Electoral Law during the mandate, which set the rules of the game for the formal political arena, prescribed that female citizens of the nascent state would not receive the right to vote. This prescription remained unchanged until the monarchy fell.

    This chapter explains why women were disenfranchised throughout the Hashemite period. It delineates the huge obstacles that stood...

  9. 4 GENDER DISCOURSE AND DISCONTENT: ACTIVISM UNRAVELED
    (pp. 111-136)

    Iraqi women did not remain silent in the face of government gender discourse, as we have seen. And yet their efforts, especially their early efforts, have not been recognized as a challenge to this discourse, mainly because the restrictive nature of Iraq’s political system reined in the women’s movement. Like a host of other organizations, women’s groups required the Ministry of the Interior’s approval for their establishment. Because only associations that curbed their feminist and political goals were sanctioned, challenge to government gender discourse was not readily apparent. However, there is another reason why the full scale of women’s response...

  10. 5 CHALLENGING THE GOVERNMENT’S GENDER DISCOURSE
    (pp. 137-162)

    By the mid-1940s, women’s organization had broadened, strengthened, and, to an extent, institutionalized. But the relatively liberal political atmosphere that infused the postwar period was not to stay; before the decade closed, the government’s reigning in of the women’s movement was acutely felt once again. As noted in chapter 4, with the repression of left-wing organizations in 1947, the Women’s League Society’s gatherings, illiteracy schools, and publications were banned, and its representation in the Iraqi Women’s Union’s directorate was cancelled. In 1951, the government denied a request to form the Women’s Liberation organization, thus pushing activists to establish the underground...

  11. EPILOGUE PAST MEETS PRESENT
    (pp. 163-174)

    The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq became a full-scale military occupation while I was in the midst of working on this book—a historical account of women under the British occupation and the British-installed monarchy in the first half of the twentieth century. I found myself more and more intrigued, as contemporary events cascaded, to find that the struggle of women’s rights activists, especially between 2003 and 2005, to a large extent revolved around the same three issues that had concerned activists during the Hashemite period. Activists in fact warned that women were about to be dragged back to days of...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 175-210)
  13. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 211-224)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 225-236)