Whereas the world in 2011 has heard of the Arab Spring and the thousands who gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo, very few have heard of the Day of Anger – 25 February. 2011 in Tahrir Square in Baghdad.
Nor do people follow the weekly gathering of Iraqi women and men every Friday in Tahrir Square, Baghdad, to demand their rights to work, water and electricity along with the end to corruption and the establish- ment of true democracy and an end to the occupation. The Organisation of Women’s Freedom (OWFI) has been among those meeting at high risk to their own security. On June 10, 100 days after the government promised to meet the prodemocracy demands activists gathered in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square were brutally attacked by plainclothes forces. Women meeting under the OWFI banner were sexually assaulted.
Fighting for women’s rights in Iraq means putting your own safety on the line. The tragedy of the Iraq war where one million people were killed and 750,000 women were left widows continues in the violence and corruption that leaves women and girls vulnerable and oppressed.
Under an occupied and heavily militarized Iraq, OWFI was formed in 2004 to put a stop to violence against women. First, by trying to understand the depth of the phenomenon, something they themselves did not think existed in Iraq until they started their investigations. Second, by providing shelter for those women and girls seeking to escape so-called honour killings and sexual slavery. In a country devastated by war and deepening poverty and social dysfunctioning, women turn to work that provides livelihoods and families are forced by economic circumstances to sell girls as young as 12 into the sex industry.
OWFI Anti-Trafficking programme helps to educate the public on the large numbers of women forced into sex work as a result of Iraq’s instability. They put pressure on the Iraqi government to strengthen its laws against the traffickers of women, girls, and children. OWFI also advocates for an end to tribal violence and for women’s human rights inside prisons and detention centres through Women’s Prison Watch including freeing 12 women in 2009 detained for crimes committed by their male family members.
The MDG3 Fund has provided funds and solidarity to OWFI to continue their work, to build more shelters and safe houses for women to help women leave trafficking and ‘pleasure marriages’ and to set up Al Mousawat (equality) Radio that is now operating from 8 am to 6 pm every day bringing the message of feminism, democracy and freedom to seven million listeners.
Al Mousawat Radio uses transmitters from Italy and installed in Al Ferdawse Square where Saddam Hussein’s statue fell. The 18 meter high antenna takes OWFI voices of freedom to millions of households.
Al Mousawat is heralded by OWFI as a new kind of media for Iraq that does not com- promise freedom, equality and secularism. The Radio is the space for young secular feminists and women friendly youth from cities throughout Iraq (Sadre city, Baghdad, Basra and Mosul) to express their creativity and vision of the future against the prevailing fundamentalist (Islamist) and military culture. It runs programmes by women university graduates who are obliged to be fully covered in black in their own neighbourhoods, but on Al Mousawat their unveiled voices fuel the urge for freedom in millions of Iraqi women and men. They are joined in support and solidarity by anti-militia secular young men. Building feminist resistance in Iraq is at the heart of OWFI’s efforts against tribal, fundamentalist and wartime violence. With the support of the MDG3 Fund, OWFI’s aims to empower women with a new sense of hope that will spread to all Iraqis.
OWFI sees itself as a feminist and revolutionary organisation in solidarity with political and economic struggles of all poor people. They see their work as part of all peoples’ struggles against oppressive economic, military and social forces, extraordinarily reaching out even to the people of the US. Their Director, the softly spoken but passionate speaker Director Yanar Mohammed and Editor-in-Chief of Al-Mousawat wrote an open letter that reaches out beyond Iraq to the occupation movement in a message of solidarity to the occupiers of Wall Street: ‘While the 99% of Iraqis seethe with anger waiting for the right conditions to claim what is theirs, they eagerly follow your progress in occupying Wall Street, as our enemy is one whether they are American or Iraqi. That enemy is the 1% of ruthless exploiters … It is time for a political system of equal wealth for all, in other words, a socialist system, where free market rules cannot starve billions while filling the pockets of a few.
Connecting such a movement globally was beyond even the wildest dreams of most visionaries, but has proven to be within reach in 2011. And your Occupy movement has played a leading role in igniting it. …We stand behind you and carry on our continuous resistance to the rule of the 1% in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and the entire world.’ *