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Iraq Journals

Glimpses of life in a war-torn country by GNS national security correspondent John Yaukey and photo director Jeff Franko.


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Tuesday, June 29

Women’s groups say U.S. hasn’t eased plight of Iraqi, Afghan women

By Greg Wright | GNS

WASHINGTON — Iraqi women’s rights deteriorated under U.S. occupation and could further worsen under Iraq’s new provisional government, according to a report released Tuesday by several women’s groups.

But a Bush administration official said dozens of programs in Iraq and Afghanistan are helping women get involved in politics and get better health care and education. The United States is expected to spend more than $20 billion on Iraqi humanitarian aid, which benefits women and children.

"I have not heard one Iraqi woman say life is worse for them now than it was before," said Charlotte Ponticelli, the State Department’s senior coordinator for women’s international issues. "They have all said, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’"

The Feminist Majority Foundation, the Center for Health and Gender Equity, and the Women’s Environment and Development Organization gave the Bush administration a "D" grade on improving the plight of women in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This may surprise the American public because Bush promised to improve the rights of Iraqi and Afghan women before the United States invaded the countries, the groups said.

Women’s welfare is also closely tied to the war against terrorism because terrorists often thrive in cultures where women are devalued, according to the groups.

The United States handed over sovereignty from a U.S.-led interim government to an Iraqi provisional government Monday. Women account for half of Iraq’s population, but no women held the top five positions in Iraq’s interim government, said Ellie Smeal, Feminist Majority’s president. Six of 33 interim cabinet members were women.

The United States also supports a new provisional government in Iraq that includes conservative Muslims who are against women’s rights, the groups said.

In rural parts of Afghanistan, the conservative Taliban is again gaining power and forcing women to wear burqas that cover them from head to toe, Smeal said.

Women’s health is worse after the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, partly because hospitals were looted and not enough U.S. aid is set aside for health care.

About 300 women of 100,000 die during pregnancy in Iraq, said Jodi Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Health and Gender Equity. In Afghanistan, mortality is even higher — about 1,700 of 100,000 women die from pregnancy complications.

In the United States, deaths are much lower at seven women of 100,000, Jacobson said.

Violence against women is also common in Iraq and Afghanistan, Smeal said. A bomb killed two female election workers in Afghanistan just weeks ago.

Houzan Mahmoud, a female political exile from Iraq who lives in London, and officials at Code Pink, a women’s peace group in San Francisco, agreed with the reports’ findings.

Although Afghanistan has more schools for girls, many girls do not attend because they are too poor or religious restrictions keep them at home, said Code Pink spokeswoman Medea Benjamin.

And although the United States is giving Iraq billions in humanitarian aid, much goes to conservative groups that do not promote feminism, Mahmoud said.

"The women’s rights are being more violated now than under Saddam’s regime," said Mahmoud, who runs the London office of the Iraqi Women’s Rights Coalition.

Women vs. men

Women make up slightly less than half of the population in both Afghanistan and Iraq.


2004 population, estimated: 28.4 million

Female: 13.9 million

Male: 14.5 million

Female life expectancy: 42.7 years

Male life expectancy: 42.3 years

Births per female: 6.8

Female literacy rate: 21 percent

Male literacy rate: 51 percent


2004 population, estimated: 25.4 million

Female: 12.5 million

Male: 12.9 million

Female life expectancy: 69.5 years

Male life expectancy: 67 years

Births per female: 4.4

Female literacy rate: 24 percent

Male literacy rate: 56 percent

Source: CIA World Factbook