Iraqi Women Gear Up For Greater Role In Politics When Iraq finally forms a new government, there will be many new female faces. By law, 25 percent of parliament must be female. In some cases, that means replacing men who would have won seats, which is isn't always welcome news.
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Iraqi Women Gear Up For Greater Role In Politics

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Iraqi Women Gear Up For Greater Role In Politics

Iraqi Women Gear Up For Greater Role In Politics

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People in Iraq are moving slowly toward a new government. They've had an election, and this much is known: Most of the winners are new to their jobs, so there will be many new faces in Parliament, which includes many women. The law requires women to hold a quarter of the seats, which means many replace men who would otherwise have won. NPR's Quil Lawrence reports.

QUIL LAWRENCE: Overlooking the southern end of the Tigris River's hairpin turn through Baghdad, Hind al-Bideri recently inaugurated the first women's cafe in the capital.

(Soundbite of blender)

LAWRENCE: The all-female waitstaff blend up fruit shakes and also serves tall water pipes full of apple-scented tobacco to the students and families who drop in.

Ms. HIND AL-BIDERI: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Bideri says women would be embarrassed to smoke a pipe in front of a male waiter, but here they can relax. Despite the Chinese lanterns and the laser lights on the wall, there's a serious side to what Bideri is doing. She says all her waitresses are breadwinners. That includes Bideri herself, who has taken in the children of two brothers killed by death squads in 2006. Still, she's optimistic.

Ms. AL-BIDERI: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Iraqi women have the ambition. We just need security, says Bideri.

She approves wholeheartedly of the Iraqi law that mandates 25 percent of the parliament seats for women, even if it bruises some male egos.

Iraqi activist Hanna Edward agrees.

Ms. HANNA EDWARD (Iraqi Activist): Yes, quota - it means that men will lose. And this is the quota: Men will lose because woman have to replace and to the opportunity of being involved in the political life.

LAWRENCE: Edward says the group of 82 women entering Iraq's next legislature are much more qualified than those in the previous parliament, many of whom were appointed by party bosses just to fill the quota.

This time, it was the highest vote-getting women who got in, and a complicated system determined which men they replaced.

That didn't go down so well with the men, says Edward.

Ms. EDWARD: But men? Oh, my. Go to the elections committee, and you will see so many of letters complaining why women being, you know, replacing, why - us. And we have votes. We have the high numbers of voters, and so on.

LAWRENCE: But not all of the men are opposed, in principle.

Mr. MUSTAFA AL-HITTI: This would have been a place for me. So my place was taken by a woman.

LAWRENCE: Mustafa al-Hitti ran for parliament in conservative Anbar Province, and he admits that many of his supporters are not pleased that he will be replaced by a female candidate. Hitti is trying to take the loss in stride.

Mr. AL-HITTI: I don't feel angry for that. I am a supporter for the women in Iraq. One of my themes was to raise the standard of the woman.

LAWRENCE: Hitti ran as part of the secular list led by Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister. It may come as a surprise, though, that the top women vote-getters - and most of the women who won their seats without a boost from the quota - are from religious Shiite parties.

And the woman who will replace Hitti in Anbar?

Ms. AFAF ABDEL-RAZZAK: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Afaf Abdel-Razzak would only be interviewed by phone. She's effectively gone into hiding since she won. Groups like al-Qaida still operate in Anbar and might target a female politician. She's been moving between Anbar and Baghdad, until the new parliament opens and she gets her official guard detail.

Afaf is a teacher, and as a lawmaker, she's hoping to promote education along with women's rights.

Ms. ABDEL-RAZZAK: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: At the beginning, it wasn't conceivable that a woman could run, she says. But now, even in Anbar province, people will get used to the idea of having women be their voice in parliament.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Baghdad.

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