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Iraqi Women Visit the US to Promote Women's Rights Issues

In Iraq, many women are demanding that lawmakers enact constitutional changes ensuring they have greater say in political, economic and social affairs. VOA's Chris Simkins reports on efforts to increase women's rights in Iraq.

Women make up 65 percent of Iraq's population. But for decades they've had few rights and little representation in the government. Now that a new government is being formed, advocates for women's rights are trying to secure greater political, social, economic and legal rights. This group of prominent Iraqi women was in Washington, D.C., and traveled around the world, attending workshops aimed at teaching and promoting skills needed to become political, business and community leaders.

Zakia Hakki, who was the first female judge in Iraq, says political negotiations over forming the new government have so far not involved women.

"There is very, very important negotiation and dialogue inside Iraq by the leaders of all the political groups,” she says. “But there is not a single woman with them. We should continue our struggle to be recognized as equal partners to build our future."

Judge Hakki hopes women can be part of a committee that works on amending the constitution.

Under the new Iraqi constitution, ratified in October, women are guaranteed a quarter of parliament's 275 seats.

But women's rights are limited or vaguely defined. That's why some rights advocates are focused on expanding the role women can and should have in rebuilding a new Iraq. Ala Noori Talabani, an advocate for Kurdish and women's rights, says in order for change to come about it is important women actively participate in the political process.

"If we have enough women there and they are well trained and they have skills then when we are passing new laws, because so many new laws will be passed in this term of the parliament, those ladies there will have time to review the laws and see how they benefit women and human rights," said the activist.

Hanaa Edwar, a founder of the Iraqi Women's Network, says women suffered greatly under Saddam Hussein's regime, just like men and deserves equal protection.

"We have the equality. Equality in imprisonment, equality in executions, equality in displacement, equality in such a bloody, bloody, and miserable life that we have shared with our brothers,” said Ms. Edwar. “So when we say we have the leading role also with our brothers we mean that we (women) have energy, we have good knowledge and we are really trying to build peace in the country and justice."

Iraqi women's rights activists cite a 1959 law, which protected the rights of women and the family, especially in marriage.

Ms. Talabani says another part of their plan is to make sure the UN sets up a women’s human rights commission in Iraq to monitor laws passed by the legislature. She says in the long term more should be done to integrate women into the country's police force and judicial system.