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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: Focus on threats against progressive women

BAGHDAD, 21 March 2005 (IRIN) - Pharmacist Zeena Qushtiny was dressed in the latest Western fashion and wearing a sparkling diamond necklace when she was taken at gunpoint from her pharmacy in Baghdad by insurgents.

Her body was found 10 days later with two bullet holes close to her eyes.

She was covered in a traditional abaya veil preferred by Islamic conservatives with a message pinned to it saying: "She was a collaborator against Islam", according Qushtiny's family.

Qushtiny was the mother of two young girls and a divorcee. She was a popular professional in the capital and respected for her work but was considered by radicals as being an insult to Islam.

She was also working for women's rights and was advocated greater democracy in Iraq according to her friends and colleagues. She was considered an outspoken activist by radicals and her dress was seen as being too extravagant for Iraq.

Women activists have been suffering since the last war in Iraq because of calls for improved rights and equality with men in this Muslim country, according to a report by the local Women's NGO association.

During Saddam Hussein's regime, women could dress less conservatively in the big cities and would not be punished, according to female activists.

But now women say they are no longer safe and decapitated female corpses have begun turning up in recent weeks with notes bearing the word "collaborator" pinned to their chests, according to Colonel Subhi al-Abdullilah, a senior police investigator.

"They have tried to kill me many times but I won't stop my work as an activist and will increase my participation to bring the rights for Iraqi women. I wear a head scarf when I have to leave my home to go to work and even so, I prefer strong colours," Son Kul Chapuk, member of the national assembly and president of the Women's NGO association, told IRIN in Baghdad.

Islamic militants have killed 20 women in the northern city of Mosul and a dozen more in Baghdad since the beginning of this year according to local authorities. All of the victims were women who were looking forward to a better future. They include three gynaecologists, two pharmacists and students.

In Latifiyah, some 25 kilometres south of Baghdad, Sunni radicals have pasted leaflets on the walls of shops, schools and mosques, prohibiting women from leaving their homes without the traditional abaya and banning them from using make-up. The warning says if they don't obey the laws they will be killed.

Eleven women have been killed in the area so far. Three bodies were found decapitated and the others were shot in the head, according to Major Quassim Yacoub, a senior officer at the local police station.

In November 2004, Amal al-Mamalachy, a well know women's rights activist and government adviser, was hit by 10 bullets and killed in Baghdad on her way to work. Her car was hit by a total of 160 bullets and many of her security guards shot dead in a ferocious attack.

In other incidents, Akilla al-Hashimia, a member of the interim government, was killed in October 2003. Nisreen al-Burawary, minister of public works, the only woman in the cabinet, survived an attack last year in which two of her bodyguards were killed. The bodyguards were also considered as activists and collaborators with US forces inside the country.

Margaret Hassan, the former director of the CARE International in Iraq, was kidnapped and killed in November 2004. Hassan was married to an Iraqi and had spent 30 years in the country working on humanitarian issues. Her unknown captors called for British troops to withdraw and for women in Iraqi prisons to be freed. She was the first foreign woman to be killed in Iraq since the conflict began in 2003.

"I believe that the situation [of security] is getting better step by step and women just have to be careful in their ways and trust that the new government will do anything to protect them," Sabah Kadham, deputy minister of Interior, told IRIN.

Threats have also been made against NGOs. Firdous al-Abadi, the spokeswomen for the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) received death threats while she was working in Fallujah. She said she was accused of being an activist and insurgents said she was talking too much in public.

"I just want to do my work. It's a humanitarian field. I should talk according to what we have seen," al-Abadi told IRIN.

Manal Omar, director of the Women for Women International (WFWI) organisation in Iraq, told IRIN that women have become a target for insurgents and that they have become more vulnerable.

"Many women have been killed inside the country and the killers have not been yet been charged. The activists are the latest target and if this is not addressed soon, the situation will get much worse," she maintained.

Son Kul Chapuk added that many women had been attacked with a spray containing acid in the northern city of Kirkuk because they weren't wearing their veils properly.

"It's really absurd. They cannot prohibit women from wearing what they want or stop them from looking out for their rights," she said.

Houzan Mahmoud, the UK representative for the Iraqi Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), told IRIN that all women's organisations, political parties and human rights groups should support and help women secure their rights to prevent more murders.

"With the win of the United Alliance in the election, the Islamisation can grow fast and the women in Iraq could lose more of what they have lost inside Iraq. I just ask for everyone to open their eyes to this issue and help the true entities that are looking for their rights as women," Mahmoud added.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Gender Issues, (IRIN) Human Rights



This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005

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