A cautionary tale to women in post-war Iraq

Thu 1 May 2003

This newsletter is being released as another war came to an end, the war in Iraq. It is clear by now that the dictatorship of Sadam Husein vanished under the heavy bombing of the American and British forces. Many rejoiced the day when a government that persecuted and discriminated its own people disappeared. The big question is what comes next. To us as women’s rights activists, the big concern is what will happen to women in a post-war Iraq. And, as women’s groups that work in a post-conflict area, run mainly by a UN administration, we have a very complex story to tell to the women of Iraq.

Kosovar women started to get organized in the early 1990 and worked very closely with the local parallel government that resisted the persecution of the Kosovar Albanian population by the authoritarian regime of Slobodan Milosevic. When war started in ex-Yugoslavia, we became part of the regional women’s networks that raised their voices against the war and provided help to women and refugees in those very hard times. When the war came to Kosova, women’s rights activists became refugees themselves, but never stopped working with women and for women, this time in refugee camps in Macedonia and Albania.

We greeted joyfully the decision that put Kosova under an UN administration. UN was to us the revered international organization that developed and passed key documents that stipulated women’s rights and promoted their integration in all levels of decision-making. But, when we returned home we were, unfortunately, disappointed by the UN Mission in Kosova (UNMIK). We were eager to work with the international agencies in developing effective strategies for responding to the pressing needs of Kosovar women, but most of those agencies did not recognize that we existed and often refused to hear what we had to say on decisions that affected our lives and our future. Some of the international staff came to Kosova thinking that this is an extremely patriarchal society where no women’s movement can flourish. And there were those who wanted us to do all the groundwork for them: find staff and offices, set up meetings and provide translations, but were not interested in listening to us and acknowledge our expertise. They had their own plans and their ready-made programs that they had tried in other countries and did not want to change their plans to respond to the reality of our lives.