In an attempt to promote the participation of all parts of Iraqi society during the January 30th elections, one out of every three names in the list of candidates must be a woman. That requirement has led to a burst of activity by Iraqi women outside the country. VOA producer Zulima Palacio met with some of them in the midwestern city of Dearborn, Michigan.
Contrary to stereotypes, Iraqi women are active participants in their society. The regime of Saddam Hussein was oppressive, but it granted many rights to women. But up to now, Iraqi women's participation in politics has been very limited. Now they have the possibility of making up a third of Iraq's constitutional assembly.
Dr. Najwa Aljawad, a University professor in Detroit ,says that not even the American Congress has that percentage of women, and the measure is an important incentive. "This will give courage to women to show that they can do something, I know you should fight for your own right and to gain what you have, nobody should give it to you, but I think is a first step to prove that women can be a part of the political system and they can do a good job."
Dr. Aljawad is an active member of an independent volunteer women's group for the Iraqi election. Together with other movements, they have been educating and training women for the vote.
This gathering took place at the Karbalaa Islamic education Center in Dearborn, which has one of the highest concentrations of Iraqi-Americans in the U.S.
Professor Fatima Hassan is working in the voting program for the International Organization of Migrations (IOM), which was hired by the Iraqi Electoral Council. She says, "We believe the women are the center of the house and she can do different things, she can educate her sons, her husband, all of them. She will announce all of the election and will be a very good media in the house and women have such power to do that, women are very powerful -- she is created to be a teacher."
Engineer Basma Fakri also works for IOM. She says they are not allowed to talk politics, only the logistics for the electoral process through meetings, media and Internet. She says people must find their own ways to learn about the candidates, "For them is by talking to people, by phone, their families in Iraq, by newspapers, the media, the Internet, that's the best."
There is another new factor: a new generation of Iraqi-American, raised in the U.S. and enthusiastic about freedom in Iraq.
Neam Zalzala came to the U.S. when she was three months old. She recalls her participation in the political process, "I have participated in U.S. elections, I have seen the process of it, I voted ever since I was 18. I have seen the process here and wish the process would be the same way for Iraqis."
In all probability, many young Iraqi-Americans, like Neam, will never go back to Iraq to live. But their enthusiasm for democracy in Iraq and women's participation in politics will have an impact there and both young and old émigrés here agree that the election is a first step toward peace in Iraq.