Women’s rights have come a long way since the first International Women’s Day in 1900. Talks of gender equality have come to dominate the agenda of politicians of all credos leaving many wondering if there is still a need for a feminist struggle – especially within Western democratic societies. On the 101st anniversary of International Women’s Day the Occupied Times spoke to Houzan Mohamoud – the Kurdish women’s rights and anti-war activist and co-founder of the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq – regarding the relevance of this event in Britain and the Middle East.
Occupied Times: Do you believe Western governments and media have created stereotypes of Middle Eastern women? If so what is the purpose of such misrepresentations?
Houzan Mohamoud: The history of colonialism and intervention in this region require such stereotypes of an entire population as inferior, uncivilised savages with all women being submissive, passive recipients of male
violence. These misrepresentations help the Western imperialist powers to keep an upper hand, asserting their hegemony and supremacy culturally, economically and politically over this region.
OT: Has the idea of having to liberate these women contributed to Western intervention in the region? If so, how so?
HM: In the case of Afghanistan women were repeatedly used as media propaganda for the war and occupation of Afghanistan. However helping women, saving them from violence or liberating them from inferior positions is never the agenda of these war mongers. One should ask do women need imperialists and foreign intervention to be liberated and have equality with men? If so what is the task of women themselves in these countries who are fighting for women’s rights? Can women’s rights and equality be achieved through war mongering, invasion and occupations? I really doubt it very much and I think it is very naïve for anyone to think so.
OT: The UK and U.S. governments have described the current Iraqi government as a more democratic one and the new constitution as an important stepping stone towards a freer Iraq. Over the past 10 years how has policy towards women – and their social and economic status – changed in Iraq?
HM: U.S. and UK have no choice but to say that this current Iraqi government is “democratic” because it’s their puppet and it’s their own creature. The very first steps of this so-called democracy were Islamic Sharia law and a Shiite-Sunni divide in Iraqi society. Having an ethno-sectarian, tribalist and religious government in Iraq will only double the suffering of women, causing them to be treated as second class citizens in society. Most policies so far have been anti-women; take the recent directive of the so called women’s minister whereby she wanted to impose “modest” clothing on women employees as another step of Islamisation of Iraq
OT: Do you believe there are some commonalities between the issues brought forward by the Occupy movement and those facing women’s liberationist organisations around the world?
HM: I think the whole world including men, women, workers, children, unemployed, youth and the entire population have been hit hard by the neo-liberal policies of privatisation and creation of wealth beyond imagination for a small elite i.e. one per cent of the population. Women of course suffer double in these economic crises and they would be first to lose their jobs, and status.
OT: IWD is a global celebration of female strength and achievement. What’s the importance of this event globally? Is it still relevant in the so called “Western democracies”?
HM: IWD is more than ever relevant for women everywhere on this planet. In none of the so-called Western democracies have women achieved their full rights, freedoms and equalities with men in many spheres. The fight for full equality and an end to violence, exploitation and suppression of women still has a long way to go.