16 July 2018
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Female candidates are facing a backlash in Iraq

Tuesday, 08 May 2018 20:28
Women running for parliament face a barrage of revealing pictures and alleged sex tapes Women running for parliament face a barrage of revealing pictures and alleged sex tapes

THERE is an air of optimism in Iraq, which will hold parliamentary elections on May 12th. It will be the fifth such vote since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, bolstering Iraq’s status as one of the few Arab democracies. Under the country’s electoral law 25% of parliament’s 329 seats must be held by women (see chart). Nearly 2,600 of them (37% of candidates) are running this year. Campaign posters of female candidates, some wearing Islamic headscarves, others uncovered and in make-up, are all over Iraq’s cities.

The quota for female lawmakers has provoked a backlash. Since campaigning began last month, posters of female candidates (veiled and unveiled) have been defaced and photos allegedly of candidates wearing revealing clothing have been spread online. Intidhar Ahmed Jassim, a candidate from the electoral alliance of Haider al-Abadi, the prime minister, withdrew from the race after a video purporting to show her in bed with a man was published online. (Ms Jassim has called it a fake.) Similar videos have been used to discredit other female candidates, and to intimidate women into not running in future elections. The UN describes the situation as “alarming”.

In 2014, the last time Iraqis voted for parliament, only 22 female candidates gained the votes necessary to win their seats. Another 61 women were allocated seats to fill the quota. A few gained national attention. Hanan al-Fetlawi was a staunch defender of Nuri al-Maliki, a power-hungry former prime minister, and now heads her own party, Iradah. Vian Dakhil, Iraq’s only Yazidi MP, was dubbed Islamic State’s “most wanted woman”. But most had scant effect on legislation, largely siding with their parties. “There was no use for them,” says Jebrah Altaii, a candidate for the Iraqi Communist Party. Others accuse female candidates of lacking political depth and using their looks to win votes. Some female candidates have admitted as much. “The big blocs now have experience in how to defraud voters, so they brought in new faces that do not understand politics and do not have any programmes or visions,” Bushra Zuwini, a former minister of women’s affairs, told Saudi Arabia’s Arab News.

But part of the problem is that strong and outspoken women are discouraged from running or hounded out by attacks, leaving candidates who are less accomplished and more pliable. Those behind the harassment “are afraid of educated, dynamic, qualified, courageous and open-minded women”, says Jan Kubis, the special representative of the UN secretary general for Iraq. Still, analysts expect women to do better than in 2014 because many voters are fed up with incumbents, who are associated with corruption and sectarianism. “I’m going to vote for a woman because, as well as their own rights, they are fighting for a better future for all of us,” says Ali, a voter in Baghdad. 

Source: The Economist

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