Monday, October 20, 2008

Women Candidates Fear Elections

From the Buffalo News:
"Even as violence has declined, lingering fear bred by rampant crime and a small but die-hard insurgency has left many Iraqi women afraid to run in the elections, to be held by Jan. 31.

The election jitters are part of a larger concern about violence and traditional values or prejudice sidelining women from important jobs. The constitution provides that men and women have basic legal rights such as voting and owning property and suing in court. But deep differences exist within Iraqi society over the role of women and of Islam.

Under heavy U.S. pressure to promote gender equality, the Iraqis agreed to a 25 percent quota for women in the last elections for parliament and provincial councils, both held in 2005. A law paving the way for the new vote to be held by Jan. 31 maintains that requirement, opening the door for women to make up at least a quarter of the provincial councils.

But there's a crucial difference this time. In the past elections, names did not appear on the ballot - only numbers and symbols identified with political parties. That system helped empower well-organized religious parties and left many Iraqis feeling little connection with elected officials who were supposed to represent them.

In the new vote, the names of candidates must be presented to voters. The change to a so-called open list has scared some qualified Iraqis from running, particularly women. Activists are worried there won't be enough women to meet the 25 percent threshold, or that the parties will just find women to act as figureheads to fill the quota.

The problem is more acute for women who have come under attack simply for wearing makeup or refusing to don head scarves and head-to-toe black robes - behavior deemed un-Islamic by extremists.
Women also have come under scrutiny for defying traditional norms that discourage them from mixing with men or occupying a public role."

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