ALEX COHEN, host:

Most of the photos on those campaign posters feature male faces. There are some female candidates, but they are few and far between. Originally, election law mandated that women were guaranteed at least 25 percent of the seats on Iraq's 18 provincial councils, but that quota was written out of the law last year. On the phone with us now is Maysoon Al- Damluji. She's a member of Iraq's parliament. She also runs the Iraq Independent Women's Group. Welcome to the program, Maysoon.

Ms. MAYSOON AL-DAMLUJI (President, Iraqi Independent Women's Group): Thank you.

COHEN: Could you explain the original thought behind this quota? Why put a number or percentage on how many women should serve on local councils?

Ms. AL-DAMLUJI: Well, this is a recommendation that came out in 1996 by the United Nations, which is really a 40 percent quota for women. However, we, as women's groups, we lobbied for a 40 percent quota, but we had to bargain it down to 25 percent. And it is one name of a woman among every three names in every desk. And it's - any council constitutes less than 25 percent. Women who are going have to go to court, because it is a constitutional matter.

COHEN: There was a piece in Time Magazine describing one of the candidates who said she didn't even want to run, that her husband forced her to. And apparently, she wasn't the only female candidate pushed into the elections. Why is this happening?

Ms. AL-DAMLUJI: Well, I don't know. I have met with quite a few women candidates, and I'm going to vote for a woman myself. There are a number of women who are capable and able of doing the job, and they are very enthusiastic, and they are in the forefront of the elections campaign. However, some parties and blocks who haven't dealt with women issues before might find it difficult to find women. So, I mean, they might resort to forcing the wife or sister to run. I mean, you know, we don't want for this to happen.

COHEN: Are there differences in how women can or should campaign in Iraq compared to men?

Ms. AL-DAMLUJI: Sometimes, a woman's faith is either the religious or a traditionalist groups, especially within tribal society, and they are not able to put up your pictures or campaign for themselves openly. I mean, this is a culture that we have to work on. We look forward to developing the status of women within our country now. And this is part of its birth. A woman should be able to take part in the decision-making processes. We find it very important.

COHEN: And what effect does it have? You've been a member of parliaments since 2005. What effect do you think women have in these governmental bodies?

Ms. AL-DAMLUJI: A number of things. First, since we have managed to make the International Day Against Violence Against Women, obviously, we don't agree on everything there. Some of us are more liberal than others, but we do agree about the importance of education for women, and importance of our services, job opportunities, etc. Iraq has a big problem of widows, a large number of women who are without anyone to support them, like man, a husband, a brother, etc., sons.

And these are the most impoverished in the society. And we are all - regardless of our political background, we all agree that a solution has to be found for these women.

COHEN: Maysoon Al-Damluji is a member of Iraq's parliament. She also runs the Iraq Independent Women's Group. Thank you.

Ms. AL-DAMLUJI: My pleasure. Thank you very much.

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