Iraqi women who do not wear the Islamic headscarf, commonly known as the hijab, are increasingly coming under crackdown as conservative Islam gradually permeates the Iraqi political scene.
“Day after day, I am seeing more indicators that there is discrimination against women who choose not to wear hijab in Iraq,” Hanaa Edwar, General Secretary of the non-government organization, Iraqi Al-Amal Association, told Al Arabiya.
Edwar, also founder of Iraqi Women’s Network, sounded the alarm about attempts to force women to wear the hijab, especially in government offices. Head of Iraq’s Ministry of Women, Ibtihal Kasid al-Zubaidi, ordered in January that women working in government offices dress “modestly.”
Zubaidi axed tight pants, short skirts and colorful clothes. Zubaidi, who segregated genders in her ministry, was lambasted as "anti-female" and her ministry described as an "anti-women ministry." Edwar’s Iraqi Women Network, made up of 18 civil society organizations, protested against Zubaidi’s policy, describing it as seeking to curb women’s civil liberties.
More women are approaching Edwar to file their complaints about government institutions and even TV channels belonging to religious political which enforce strict dress code and gender segregation. Edwar, a member of the High Preparatory Committee for National Congress of Iraq, said that there is an interference even with the way some women wear their scarves.
She said, they were forced to cover their chin as well. “There is no legal restraint over the power of a boss or a manager who thinks he or she can control how an employee should dress,” she said, adding “this has become exaggerated.”
Sexual harassment is on the list, Edwar warned, with widowed or divorced women being the number one target. “How many high-ranking bosses have to resign because of this,” she said, in reference to CIA Director David Petraeus’s scandal that forced him to step down.
On Wednesday, Iraq’s Minister of Education, Ali Al-Adeeb warned university professors who “financially blackmailing male students and immorally harassing female students.” The frustration over sexual harassment prompted some women to speak out during a Ministry of Interior conference last month.
“A number of women from the media came and boldly expressed their frustration in front of interior ministry officials about sexual harassment even from the highest of all ranks,” she said. While the interior minister looked nuanced over the sexual harassment discussion, the issue had to be confronted, she added.
The rights activist expressed her woes about the lack of administrative and professional structure in Iraq, adding that corruption in all forms should be fought. “We do not live in a real country. There is no real administration that feels responsible over the country …everyone has become a prince of his own.”
Even when finding employment, professionalism ceased to exist, with people bringing their background or tribal lineage to get a position, she said. Iraq, which was one of the most progressive countries in the region, had the first female cabinet minister in the Arab World and women enjoyed the liberty to pursue their profession.
However, the myriad series of economic sanctions and wars have led to dismantling some of the social and cultural aspects in Iraq. Also, the advent of more Islamist political parties that are more Iran-oriented after the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003 led to the rise of conservatism and new customs in the country.
“In Iraq, we never had temporary marriage. This is clearly an imported phenomenon from Iran,” she said. While in Shiite Islam, temporary marriage is allowed, it was rarely practiced nor was culturally accepted in Iraq as the conventional, permanent type of marriage was prevalent.
Other waves of conservatism in Iraq included the ministry of education banning music and arts in late 2010. The ban was lifted in Jan. 2011 as a more liberal new education minister took office. Late September, human rights groups in Iraq voiced frustration at a wave of assaults on nightclubs and other alcohol-serving places.