Today in many societies in the Middle East, women are regarded as second or third class citizens. Recognition of women as free human beings equal to men is off the agenda for all governments in the region. Every year thousands of women fall victim to so-called “honour killings”, commit suicide under pressure by setting fire to themselves and suffer from daily abuses and violence. Women are active fighting for their rights in all public spheres, including as workers, in many societies, but again the culture of religious patriarchy is so dominant that we are still not free individuals on our own right.
The right to divorce, to marry and to have full access to inheritance is open all to men. In those countries where Islamic Sharia law is in full force, women live in a massive prison: without actual bars or chains, but deprived of all their basic civil and individual liberties. They have to act, behave, marry and live a life-style which is in accordance with Sharia law and the dictates of man.
In Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and other countries were Islam is in possession of force of arms and terror, we see women been enslaved; banned from certain professions and in Saudi Arabia even from driving; the veils forced upon them; public stoning takes place for “crimes” like having sex outside marriage.
Many people in the west, even some left-wing western women, think that it is our “culture” to be oppressed, veiled, enslaved and abused. In fact, this is not a matter of “culture”, but a political system. It is because these governments are, to various extents, based on Islamism and Islamic Sharia law that millions of women are forced by them to live in hell.
As a result of this oppression, and as an alienated form of resistance to it, many women commit suicide: they want to live a life of their own choosing or not live at all. Clearly, this is deeply negative resistance. The only real way forward, the only alternative to oppression and despair, is for women to get organised and fight for our rights and freedoms.
The Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) has courageously stood against attempts to Islamise Iraqi society by force, and fights for the rights and equality of women throughout Iraq. Our recent campaign in Kurdistan to remove Article 7 from the proposed Kurdistan constitution is an example of the mass resistance that exists to the imposition of Sharia law. Support from people worldwide is very important: just as women’s rights should be universal, our solidarity should be universal!
If activists in the West understand that our situation is not a matter of “culture” or “tradition”, but a question of political and social oppression, they will support our struggle, and not be scared to speak out against Islamic laws and the medievalist politics of political Islam.
Laws, traditions and existing norms that are unjust and oppressive must be criticised, opposed and overthrown; women’s and human liberation is more important than any tradition.
Human life and freedom is more sacred than any religion and more important than the preservation of any man-made “culture”.
Houzan Mahmoud is the representative abroad of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq