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Rechtswissenschaftliche Fakultät Center for Islamic and Middle Eastern Legal Studies

What Kind of Liberation? Women and the Occupation in Iraq

In the run-up to war in Iraq, the Bush administration assured the world that America’s interest was in liberation–especially for women. In my talk I examine how Iraqi women have fared since the invasion,  with dire news of scarce resources, growing unemployment, violence, and a deterioration of women’s rights. I will discuss the current situation against the background of a brief overview of the historical context, focusing on 35 years of Ba’th regime. In terms of the contemporary post-invasion context, my talk addresses the gap between rhetoric that placed women centre stage and the present reality of their diminishing roles in the „new Iraq.“ I aim to correct the widespread view that the country’s violence, sectarianism, and systematic erosion of women’s rights come from something inherent in Muslim, Middle Eastern, or Iraqi culture. I will also demonstrate how in spite of competing political agendas, Iraqi women activists are resolutely pressing to be part of the political transition, reconstruction, and shaping of the new Iraq. My talk is based on interviews with Iraqi women’s rights activists, international policy makers, and NGO workers and will be illustrated with photographs taken by Iraqi women.

Nadje Al-Ali is Reader (Associate Professor) in Gender Studies and Chair of the Centre for Gender Studies, at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. Her main research interests revolve around gender theory; feminist activism; women and gender in the Middle East; transnational migration and diaspora mobilization; war, conflict and reconstruction. Her main publications include What Kind of Liberation? Women and the Occupation of Iraq (2009, University of California Press, co-authored with Nicola Pratt); Iraqi Women: Untold Stories from 1948 to the Present (2007, Zed Books) and Secularism, Gender and the State in the Middle East (Cambridge University Press 2000).