Rock the Vote: Media Coverage of Women in Iraqi Elections

Last week’s Iraqi elections received lots of media coverage, but at MMW we were mostly fascinated by women candidates, especially since election rules require 30% of the candidates be female. The Huffington Post defines Iraq’s exercise in democracy as rebellious, while the Gulf News qualified it as an act of political maturity.

I’ll take a closer look at CNN and The Guardian.

There was mostly positive coverage at CNN. This article shows how Iraqi women contributed to their society, even before the U.S. came and “liberated” them.

Iraqi women who voted in Baghdad's elections. Image via AFP/Getty.

Iraqi women who voted in Baghdad's elections. Image via AFP/Getty.

However, Nibras al-Mamuri, a secular female candidate running for Baghdad’s provincial council proves contribution does not necessarily mean equality when she says, “Although a woman’s role in the Arab world is mainly that of a mother and child bearer, I want to prove that women are just as capable as men when it comes to challenging arenas.”

That’s nice. You know what else would be nice? If she said women care as much about the future of Iraq as men, and that as child bearers and mothers they arguably have a lot more invested. But her statement is bold and it even sounds a little like Hillary Clinton, which is what Americans want to hear. Now that Clinton is the U.S.’s Secretary of State, she can really start to mold female politics, paper dolls and cookie cutters and all.

At The Guardian, there’s a video of an interview with two female candidates who wear headscarves. The first woman says everything I wanted al-Mamuri to up there. The other expands on this, giving a lot of relevant commentary and credibility to her candidacy by describing how the wars in Iraq affected women.

This article does a great job of showing how female candidates are welcomed or ostracized, depending on where they are in Iraq.

In Baghdad, the general consensus seems to be pretty sexist:

“Women in our electorate are very lazy and we cannot rely on them to get things done,” said Baghdad manager Ayad al-Dumaini, echoing a position that reflected the views of the dozen or so men standing with him. “But in the south I hear it is different. Women in Basra play a much more important role in the family and are active in society.”

Obviously, there’s a lot of generalizing going on there, but the second part of his statement annoys me more than the first. It’s expected for a man in the Middle East to criticize women in government. In the end it can be blamed on tradition, or called a societal taboo. But to call a woman a lazy housewife is effin’ rude.

To say Baghdad women are lazy in general, when they’ve been through so much–who are the widowed left to care for children? Who are the mothers who lost their sons? Who takes care of the wounded and comforts the little ones?—who are you, Mr. Dumaini, to say they are lazy? To accuse them of not fulfilling their role as mothers or caretakers sounds like it’s coming from somewhere personal, which is why it feels like a personal jab at all women. I feel offended by that statement. I feel like it insults my mother. And to the men who agree with him, to them I say, “You put women in these boxes, and limit the role they can play, and then you complain that they aren’t fulfilling that role. That is not evidence of anything except your own dissatisfaction with women in any sphere.”

At least he doesn’t attempt to stereotype all women, though. Notice how he only refers to women from Baghdad. Women from Basra are more “domestic.” I don’t get it, did Baghadiyas just stop cooking? I wish the article explained his statement. You can’t just throw a rock like that around and hope that no one catches it.

The article goes on to talk about the provinces, and how fundamentalist mentality makes it the worst place for female candidates. Intisar Fakhri gives us the impression that female candidates are just put on the ballot to satisfy the 30 percent rule, and not because they actually have an interest in running. This not only paints a stark contrast to Nibras al-Mamuri, the woman quoted in CNN story, but it assumes that secular areas of Iraq produce better female candidates, which is saying a mouthful about Islam (and women’s rights in Islam). It’s problematic, and I wonder, would it have been so difficult to find a “very religious” candidate who absolutely believed she could make a positive impact in government?

Regardless, this article does a good job of showing how contentious elections are in Iraq, for both women and men. The threat is maximized for women of course, who have been pressured by extremists to step down, even in the form of death threats.

At the end of the article, an Iraqi nationalist leader confirms the threat, and it would seem this article is more about how fundamentalists threaten democracy in Iraq than the role women play in it

That thought is crushed in the following paragraph, and the end of the article, with the observation that more women feel pressured to run for office than pull out.

So between these two articles, one gets the impression that some Iraqi women are outspoken and ambitious while others shun the political limelight, not only because they are expected to, but because they’d rather not be in it.

I can live with that.


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