Empowering Iraqi Women Key to Country’s Future
By David Mays
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 5, 2007 Empowering Iraqi women to actively participate in reconstruction and reconciliation is critical to the country’s future, the manager of a newly formed provincial reconstruction team said today.
“No society is going to be moderate where the women who represent a majority of the population are completely locked out,” Bobby Bran said. “And there’s probably no segment of society that is publically so weak but privately so strong.”
Bran manages a nine-person provincial reconstruction team embedded with 214th Fires Brigade, deployed from Fort Sill, Okla., to Wasit province, southeast of Baghdad along the border with Iran. He told online journalists and “bloggers” during a conference call from the region that reaching out to Iraqi women is a crucial, but delicate operation.
“You have to be very careful in how you do that, because if you try to just simply impose Western values and hold them to behaving like Western women, you’re just going to get them all killed, and it’s not going to benefit anybody,” he said.
Bran said his team recognizes how vulnerable women are in Iraqi society and takes special precautions. “You have to be very careful how you interact with them and how you influence them and provide them support where it’s possible,” he said.
Article 14 of Iraq’s constitution states that Iraqis are equal before the law “without discrimination because of sex.” But the document also states no law can be passed contradicting the “established rulings” of Islam. Critics have said that language further diminishes what was already a weak role for women in Iraqi society, something that Bran and his team are working to correct.
“Encouraging them to become more active or to have greater participation in Iraqi society is a key mandate for us or is a key effect that we hope to create,” he said.
While reconciliation in many Iraqi provinces means brokering peace between warring sects, Bran said the challenge in Shiite-dominated Wasit is different. “When we talk about reconciliation down here, we are more focused on the inter-Shiia strife,” he said. “The reconciliation there that we’re trying to promote is to basically get them to stop trying to kill one another.”
Bran said violence in the province has dramatically dropped over the past few months allowing his team unrestricted access to provincial council members, legal leaders, district mayors, tribal sheiks and Iraqis working at reconstruction project sites. “We haven’t had any difficulty with a lot of security,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t have problems. We do. This is Iraq, and you do have to be careful.”
Wasit is a huge success story in terms of reconstruction, Bran said. The province has been awarded the equivalent of $75-million from Iraq’s central government to pay for 281 projects including rebuilding schools, roads, water purification plants and agriculture infrastructure.
“I think that you’re going to see a lot of good things coming on out here,” he said. “And we hope to spearhead a lot of the changes that are going on.”
(David Mays works for the New Media branch of American Forces Press Service.)