|Iraq's Little Secret
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, NY Times
BAGHDAD, Iraq - The White House is right that Iraq is by far the most
repressive country in the entire Middle East - but that's true only if
you're a man.
To see how many Arab countries are in some ways even more repressive to
women, consider how an invasion might play out. If American ground troops
are allowed to storm across the desert from Saudi Arabia into Iraq, then
American servicewomen will theoretically not be able to drive vehicles as
long as they are in Saudi Arabia and will be advised to wear an abaya over
their heads. As soon as they cross the border into enemy Iraq, they'll feel
as if they are entering the free world: they can legally drive, uncover
their heads, and even call men idiots.
Iraqi women routinely boss men and serve in non-combat positions in the
army. Indeed, if Iraq attacks us with smallpox, we'll have a woman to
thank: Dr. Rihab Rashida Taha, the head of Iraq's biological warfare
program, who is also known to weapons inspectors as Dr. Germ.
A man can stop a woman on the street in Baghdad and ask for directions
without causing a scandal. Men and women can pray at the mosque together,
go to restaurants together, swim together, court together or quarrel
together. Girls compete in after-school sports almost as often as boys, and
Iraqi television broadcasts women's sports as well as men's.
"No one thinks that sports are just for men," said Nadia Yasser, the
captain of the Iraqi national women's soccer team. "It's true that my
mother was a bit concerned at first when I took up soccer, but I insisted,
and so she accepted it and just started praying for me."
The point is not to be soft on Saddam Hussein, whose rash wars and policies
have killed hundreds of thousands of women as well as men. Iraqi women
would be much better off with Saddam gone, and in any case the relative
equality of women in Iraq has little to do with his leadership. Iraq has
been civilized more than twice as long as Britain, after all (it was old
when Babylon arose), and Iraq got its first woman doctor back in 1922. Then
the Iran-Iraq war boosted equality by sending men to the front lines and
forced women to fill in as factory workers, bus drivers and government
Still, we shouldn't demonize all of Iraq - just its demon of a ruler - and
it's worth pondering this contrast between an enemy that empowers women and
allies that repress them. This gap should shame us as well as these allies,
reminding us to use our political capital to nudge Arab countries to
respect the human rights not just of Kurds or Shiites, but also of women...