By Diana Moukalled
April 26, 2018
The Iraqi constitution stipulates that at least 25 percent of the 328 seats in Parliament should be held by women. Currently, about 2,000 women candidates, out of a total of 7,000, are running in the legislative elections set for May 12.
Despite the enthusiasm displayed by many Iraqi women to participate, the magnitude of the fierce attacks faced by a large segment of them has been noticeable, so much so that these attacks have threatened their presence, shaken their image and hampered their chances of winning.
Although the upcoming elections are not the first in which women have participated, no female candidates have ever faced such fierce smear campaigns; especially with the current focus on the most sensitive points that resonate in Iraq, which are issues specifically of a sexual nature. A sex tape purportedly of a woman candidate has been circulating on social media, with the news reported by Iraqi and international media outlets. And, of course, Iraqi society has been busy discussing this issue.
The video that shook Iraqi society prompted the candidate concerned, university professor Intidhar Ahmed Jassim, to withdraw from the election after accusing her opponents of trying to tarnish her image. She insisted the video was fabricated and accused opponents inside and outside of Iraq of trying to discredit her. But her calls were ignored and she was withdrawn from the electoral list of Prime Minister Haider Abadi.
Iraq has been greatly shaken by the video. Many have not considered the fact that the Iraqi elections are being fought by candidates involved in murder, wars, corruption, thefts, sectarianism and countless abuses — but an alleged intimate video of a female candidate has been treated as a disaster.
In fact, ever since the date of the Iraqi elections was set, battles have been raging, and the direct public targeting of secular, civil and female candidates has been distinctly evident, so much so that one cleric did not hesitate to threaten secularists with murder. What the cleric said should have been treated as a crime or a scandal, yet no one has seriously dealt with threats of this kind.
The targeting of women has not been restricted to those from the moderate sphere, as even veiled female candidates with conservative views have been subjected to defamation campaigns. One video posted on social media showed a young man kissing a poster of a candidate from Najaf, Habdah Al-Hasnawi, sparking uproar and almost developing into a tribal conflict.
There is no doubt that the plight of Iraqi women in a country plagued by wars and crises is difficult, and thus the path to the establishment of justice and equality is still long and thorny. Moreover, both Sunni and Shiite militants are involved in the oppression and undermining of women. This was revealed by recent campaigns against female candidates, which included women from all sects and backgrounds, thus doubling the challenges faced by Iraqi women.
In Iraq, as in the wider Arab world, we cannot talk of stability and social development without the installation of women’s rights. Those who follow the elections in Iraq will not miss the defamation campaigns that have affected a large segment of female candidates, leading to the belief there are sectors that still want to see women removed from political and public life.
Hence the concern expressed by activists about the result of these fierce campaigns on the future of women’s participation in public life, especially as family and social pressures may prevent some women from entering politics at all out of the fear they would be exposed to campaigns of the sort that are currently ongoing.
There is no doubt that the videos have been leaked to violate the dignity and privacy of the women who appear in them. However, they also reveal the minds of those who seek to promote the videos, especially since questions over the identities of those who made them and the men who appeared in them were neglected. The focus has been solely on the women.
In Iraq, huge political and sectarian divisions seem to have sprung up in the face of women in an attempt to block their path to a rightful place in Parliament.
Diana Moukalled is a veteran journalist with extensive experience in both traditional and new media. She is also a columnist and freelance documentary producer.