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Iraq Working to Improve Life for Women

The Iraqi Minister of Human Rights says her department is working to improve the situation of women in Iraq. Speaking in Washington D.C., Minister Wijdan Mikha'il Salim said Iraq's government needs to do more to help Iraqi war widows find jobs.

War and violence have claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, leaving many women without husbands and many more children without fathers.

Estimates put the number of Iraqi war widows anywhere between one and three million.

Many receive financial aid from the Iraqi government. But others do not and the handouts are said to be insufficient, reducing some women to begging.

Sana Hassan recently lined up at a government office to receive aid.

"I'm a widow and my husband was killed in the violence in 2006," she said. "I have four children and the second wife of my deceased husband has four children too. We are all suffering as our income is low. One day my son asked me to go visit the grave of his father. But we could not because we did not have enough money."

Frustration has been growing. In December, an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at U.S. President George Bush, yelling "This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq!"

Iraq's Minister of Human Rights, Wijdan Mikha'Il Salim, says government assistance is only part of the solution.

"We need to create jobs for them," she said. "That's what we need. We need to include them in society by creating jobs for them, not just giving them some money for every month."

Speaking this week in Washington, D.C., the minister said advocating for women is difficult because Iraqi society revolves around men and strong traditions.

She said to achieve progress, education is necessary.

"We will need two things. The first to educate the woman about her rights, and second to educate the men about women's rights and how they can work for their society," she added.

Earlier this year, Iraq's minister of state for women's affairs resigned after just six months on the job. Nawal al-Samarraie said she was frustrated with the lack of resources for Iraqi widows.

"Full army of widows, three million widows, most of them not educated. They are in a bad economic situation, many of them have no house, even no house for them and for their children. They find themselves suddenly in the street, when their husbands, or their brother or their father is killed," she said.

She said Iraq war widows need a government ministry not just a sub cabinet official, like herself.