Radio Almahaba, Reaching Iraq's Women

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Human-rights groups are concerned the Iraqi constitution will place restrictions on women's freedom in areas such as property rights and divorce. Host Jacki Lyden talks about the future role of women in Iraq with Bushra al Samarai, who helped establish a radio station for Iraqi women.


Among those waiting anxiously to see what Iraq's new constitution will offer are women. Bushra al Samarai(ph) is with Radio Al Mahabba, which means `love' in Arabic. She says the station addresses issues important to Iraq women.

Ms. BUSHRA AL SAMARAI (Radio Al Mahabba): We mostly talk about women's rights, and we try to raise their awareness and their role in building the country, reconstructing Iraq. Unfortunately, many Iraqi women just lost this sense of how much their rights are important to them in their life. We also talk about health issues. We talk about raising children. We talk about jobs. And we talk about the participation of Iraqi women in the political process.

LYDEN: Now one of the things that we've seen be of issue to women in Iraq lately is the language in the new constitution, which talks about the foundation of women's rights reverting to Islamic law, which hadn't been the case under Saddam Hussein. Can you talk about what that discussion has meant on your radio?

Ms. SAMARAI: Basically what we do, we have open lines, and we ask people to call and to voice their opinions and concerns. And, amazingly, many women actually called, and they are concerned about the Islamic law and if the new law would restrict their rights and would take away a lot of their freedom because, according to the Islamic law, very--a simple example I give you: A woman cannot travel by herself outside the country. She has to be accompanied by either her father or her husband or a brother. And if she's alone and she doesn't have anybody from the family, she cannot literally travel outside the country.

LYDEN: When you take a look at this, how do you educate your listeners? What are you doing? I understand that some of your staff members have gotten rather participatory and are openly advocating for women's rights in the new constitution.

Ms. SAMARAI: Yeah. Yeah, that's true. We do it in different ways. It depends--we think about our listeners and their education and their ability of understanding the concept. The concept of constitution is very new in Iraq, and this is a very sensitive area. We have to make sure to teach them, to make them understand not only the constitution but their role and how they can affect the drafting process and even guide it and push it towards having their rights all written in this constitution and guaranteed.

LYDEN: It sounds like it could be a dangerous job. Have any of your employees received threats?

Ms. SAMARAI: Actually yes, we did. But they are very determined, and we have the most, I would say, courageous, committed staff members. Most of them are young, and they want to see positive changes in the society, and this is why they are committed. And they want for the constitution--not only the constitution, for the whole process to go in the right direction.

LYDEN: Well, we wish you very good luck in this endeavor with Radio Al Mahabba.

Bushra al Samarai is a management consultant with Radio Al Mahabba, Voice of Women Radio, in Baghdad.

Thanks very much for being with us today.

Ms. SAMARAI: Thank you.

LYDEN: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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