Election fever kicked off two weeks ago in Iraq, with politicians attempting to win voters through any means possible, including outright bribery. Some candidates for the April 30 parliamentary polls have given out food, particularly roast chicken, with their pamphlets attached.
Others have targeted Sunni, Shiite and secular areas with different pamphlets, designed to attract voters in each area with various slogans. In contrast, the slogans of the candidate from the autonomous northern Kurdistan Region have been less about giving out food, and more about political party policies.
What intrigued me about the Arab populated areas of Iraq is the poor depiction of female politicians, and how they are regarded socially. Gender and politics fascinate me, because when you look at a society the number of women running for parliamentary seats tend to indicate the position of women within that society.
Iraq is a prime example of a dysfunctional society. On several Facebook pages and user posts, I noticed pictures of female politicians, some showing them being kissed by male bystanders. In one particular picture, the bystander doing the kissing is a police officer.
Some might perceive this as a joke, or a mockery of Iraq’s election. Others will rightfully point out how sexist these attempts of belittling women are, and more importantly the message it sends out to female politicians. It portrays them as “sex objects,” unsuited for the male-dominated world of politics.
This comes as no surprise, in a country where Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s sons in-law publicly run for parliament by declaring their relation to the premier. However, what sets women back in this election are some of the slogans used by women themselves, highlighting just how inexperienced and unsuited some of these female candidates are.
For example, Amal al-Kashif’s campaign poster has two lines, one where she publicly supports breastfeeding and another where she promises free religious tours. You would think Iraq’s biggest challenges and problems are the cost of the bus journey to religious sites, and women’s boobs.
The fact that Iraq is on the verge of legitimizing child marriages, the significant number of women who are facing domestic violence and the increasing reports from female prisoners of sexual assault seem to have simply disappeared. Instead, some female candidates seem to be there only to make a political party look prettier and more appealing to a younger generation of voters.
Afaf al-Tamimi is another candidate. She lists her educational background, but says nothing about why people should vote for her or what her views are on the issues Iraqi women are facing -- and not just her views pertaining to women, but in general what she will do for her constituents.
Other female candidates who don’t have their pictures publicly displayed tend to have a picture of a husband, father or brother and are only known in association with their male relative. This is, perhaps, more ludicrous.
How can anyone legitimately vote for a conservative female politician who refuses to have her picture displayed publicly, and be known in her own right as a human being? The answer is obvious: Women who do not recognize themselves as equals to men in the election campaign tend to be part of the problem, not the solution.
Iraqi voters are left confused and, in most instances, with a pool of candidates unworthy of being elected in the Arab regions because they have nothing to offer the Iraqi people.
Instead, the poor are enticed with food and bribes, while the rich take the backseat and watch Iraq plunge deeper into a political crisis that cannot be resolved without a younger generation taking back what rightfully belongs to them: Self-respect, dignity and pride.
By Mustafah Rabar