Iraqi Women Face Greater Danger, Fewer Rights Most everyone in Iraq has suffered because of violence, but the lives of women have been, perhaps, affected the most. Women's rights groups report that in the past six months, more than 100 women have been killed in the city of Basra for wearing make-up or what is deemed Western clothing.

Iraqi Women Face Greater Danger, Fewer Rights

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


NPR's Anne Garrels has this report.

ANNE GARRELS: It wasn't supposed to be this way. That's what journalist Khalzar Abdul Amir(ph) says again and again.

KHALZAR ABDUL AMIR: (Through translator) I have big dreams that after Saddam, it would be better off. But everything is much worse than before.

GARRELS: She was specifically targeted because she's a female reporter. This 29-year-old received a letter. It was a threat - quit or die.

ABDUL AMIR: (Through translator) It was a declaration but it was lawful to kill me. My family sent me north to Kurdistan for safety.

GARRELS: But Khalzar felt like a foreigner there, alone without family, friends or a job. She felt like she was already dead. And her family in Baghdad needed her financial support. She came back. She does her job as best she can. She's more careful. But every day, she's scared.

ABDUL AMIR: (Through translator) If I were free to wear what I like, I would not be wearing this long skirt and head scarf. I don't feel comfortable. But a woman now has to give up the fight and dressed the way the conservatives want to stay alive.

GARRELS: You don't have to get a personal threat to get the message.

ABDUL AMIR: (Through translator) Millions of Iraqi women share my fears. At least, I have the will and determination to defy circumstances and venture outside my house. Others cannot do this.

GARRELS: Unidentified Woman #1: (Speaking in foreign language)

GARRELS: Amir Alukabi(ph) was kidnapped last year and held for seven days because she defended women's rights. One of the lucky ones, she was released when her tribe paid a hefty ransom.

AMIR ALUKABI: (Through translator) Today, the religious movements controlling Iraq are the real stumbling block in the way of women. When we brought up the killings of women in Basra, there were actually members of parliament who supported the killings. They want to lock a woman up in her house. Keep her blindfolded and backward.

GARRELS: And she had harsh words for the women in parliament who, by law, make up 25 percent of the seats.

ALUKABI: (Through translator) These women members of parliament are ghosts. They say nothing. The parties fooled the people. They say, look, we've given women a role when they have no role at all. It's pure propaganda.

GARRELS: Outside Baghdad in the countryside, women are even more restricted, controlled by the men of the family, dependent on their dictates with no recourse. Lamyah Rabiya Saffat(ph) says the trappings of modern life are an illusion.

LAMYAH RABIYA SAFFAT: They have their cars. They have everything. But still, inside, they are restricted to the tribe, to the habits of the old.

GARRELS: Lamyah moved from Baghdad to the provincial town of Hila when she married her first cousin. Arranged marriages within family are common. The transition to provincial life has been difficult. She describes the female cousin who dared to become a pharmacist.


RABIYA SAFFAT: She's not married until now. And they thought she's mixed with men and so on. And she's having her free thoughts.

GARRELS: What is it that the men fear? They don't trust the women?

RABIYA SAFFAT: Yeah, they don't trust the women. They don't take their point of view. She does not have to make an opinion. If she does, they say to her she's not a good woman. So she'd rather to be silent. Yeah, it's better for her.


GARRELS: Naharwan(ph) is another cousin. And Lamyah, sister-in-law. She is bright and hungry for life. But there was not relative her age for her to marry. Now 31, Naharwan is little more than a family slave. Lamyah can't bear what Naharwan's life has become.

RABIYA SAFFAT: It's a horrible thing, you know? Like a prisoner and somehow restricted according to the family. But she wants to get out of this cage as if, you know, I feel but she does not say that. But I feel what pain she's living. I see it inside of her. And this is killing me. Sometimes I cry for her.

GARRELS: She's an extraordinary woman.

RABIYA SAFFAT: Yeah, she's a powerful woman. Yes, tough, you know. From - outside but inside, I've felt her pain.

GARRELS: Unidentified Woman #2: Hello, Mama. (unintelligible).

GARRELS: Back in Baghdad, 37-year-old Fatima Red(ph) had hoped her education as an architect would finally be of use when Saddam was ousted. She hadn't been able to get a job not because she was a woman but because she was a Shiite. And at first, she and her husband locked out.

FATIMA RED: (Through translator) We succeeded in finding lucrative and interesting jobs working for foreigners. So the first time we had money, some money. But then the bitter reality set in. We could not enjoy our new money because of the bad security situation.

GARRELS: They bought a car but Fatima's dream of driving never materialized.

RED: (Through translator) Fewer and fewer women drive these days. You no longer see women driving the street compared to the old days because they are targeted.

GARRELS: Her husband received a death threat and fled the country. Fatima is trying to earn enough money to join him. She continues to work but tells no one - not even her children - who she works for and what she does. She says her prayer each morning, hoping she will return alive.

RED: (Through translator) Alone as a woman, I can't go out with friends or visit relatives. Life dies at sunset when I leave the office. I just want to get home safely.

GARRELS: She doesn't believe in the future here. But she knows her future abroad will also be limited.

RED: (Through translator) I don't want to leave my country because this means the death of my dreams. I can't work as an architect abroad. For me and my husband, this is - it's a huge loss.

GARRELS: Anne Garrels, NPR News, Baghdad.

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