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Iraqi Women Make Waves With Radio Show


The Kurdistan region in northern Iraq has largely escaped the country's surging violence, but many women there say they still lack basic human rights. And in the region's capital Irbil, several women have started their own radio show to help make their case.

It is northern Iraq's hottest new radio show.

Radio Zine airs every morning in and around Irbil, the Kurdistan Region's bustling capital. The program is run by women for women.

Host Razawa Sadia, 21, introduces a new issue at the start of each show and then lets her audience phone in to join the debate.

Today's topic is polygamy. The local government recently banned the practice in the Kurdistan region. A number of Islamic groups sharply opposed the measure and are vowing to overturn the new law.

Sadia is a devout Muslim. Even inside the show's tiny studio she keeps her face hidden behind the traditional Muslim headscarf.

But today she tells her audience she disagrees with the Muslim leaders. She says whenever a man marries more than one woman it creates problems for the entire family.

Within seconds listeners start to phone in to share their opinion.

One caller says she also supports the new law banning polygamy.

"Men are never happy," she said. "Why do men always have all these rights she says, why cannot women have more than one husband?"

And not all the callers are women. The show is also popular with Irbil's taxi drivers, many of whom check in whenever they are stuck in traffic.

One driver says the real issue is not polygamy but arranged marriages.

"If men were allowed to marry women they actually loved, instead of matches forced on them by their parents nobody would even need a second wife," he said.

Women in northern Iraq are pressing for greater rights. Despite gains in political representation, many women say they are still treated like second-class citizens at home.

Domestic abuse is a major problem. Honor killings are still prevalent throughout the countryside, and in cities like Irbil women say they are being shut out of the best schools and job opportunities.

The program's director, Chilura Hardi, launched Radio Zine a little more than a year ago. She says she wanted to create a public forum where local women could address their concerns.

And she says, from the beginning nothing has been considered off limits.Hardi says the latest program targeted women whose husbands have become terrorists. Her advice, protect your children and talk to your family.

"Because unless we talk about these issues and we make people aware of it I do not think its going to disappear just like that," she said.

She admits it is much easier said than done. One of the main challenges is just getting people to share their opinions.

Hardi says when Saddam Hussein was in power the entire area was saturated with secret police and local informers. People quickly learned to keep their thoughts and opinions to themselves.

She says it could be years before people here feel safe enough speak out.

Back in the studio, Razawa Sardia has just finished the day's program.

When they first started broadcasting she says they were lucky if two or three people called in. Now they have more calls then they know what to do with.

As she leaves she says she already has a few ideas for tomorrow's program.

The topic? Should there be a female judge for Saddam Hussein's genocide trial.

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