• Saturday, October 25, 2014
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    Building Feminist Resistance in Iraq: OWFI

    OWFI women demonstrate in Baghdad raising slogans of change, right to work, and equality.

    Whereas the world in 2011 has heard of the Arab Spring and the thousands who gathered in Cairo, very few have heard of the Feb. 25, 2011 Day of Anger in the other Tahrir Square – in Baghdad.

    Nor do people follow this weekly Friday gathering of Iraqi women and men who demand their basic rights to work, water and electricity – along with the establishment of true democracy and an end to corruption and the occupation.

    The Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) has been among those demonstrating at high risk to their own security. On Jun. 10 of this year, 100 days after the government promised to meet pro-democracy demands, activists who gathered in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square were brutally attacked by plainclothes forces. Women meeting under the OWFI banner were sexually assaulted.

    Fighting for women’s rights in Iraq means putting one’s own safety on the line. The tragedy of the Iraq war, with its one million people casualties and 750,000 widows, continues in the violence and corruption that leaves women and girls vulnerable and oppressed.

    Under an occupied and heavily militarised Iraq, OWFI was formed in 2004 to put a stop to violence against women (VAW) – first by trying to understand its prevalence and second by providing shelter for women and girls seeking to escape so-called “honour killings” and sexual slavery.

    In a country devastated by war, deepening poverty and social dysfunction under occupation, women are resorting to sex work and families are selling girls as young as 12 years old into the sex industry, OWFI says. Their anti-trafficking programme helps educate the public about the large numbers of women forced into sex work as a result of Iraq’s instability and puts pressure on the Iraqi government to strengthen laws against the traffickers of women and children.

    OWFI also advocates for an end to tribal violence and for women’s human rights inside prisons and detention centers through their Women’s Prison Watch programme. In 2009, the group helped free 12 women detained for crimes committed by their male family members.

    The MDG3 Fund has provided OWFI with support and solidarity to continue their work – from building more shelters and safe houses to help women leave trafficking and ‘pleasure marriages’ to setting up Al Mousawat (equality) Radio, which broadcasts feminism, democracy and freedom to seven million listeners.

    Al Mousawat is heralded by OWFI as a new kind of media for the county – one that does not compromise freedom, equality or secularism. The station offers a safe space for young secular feminists and women-friendly youth from cities throughout Iraq – Sadre City, Baghdad, Basra and Mosul – to express their shared vision of a future against the prevailing fundamentalism and militarism. Deejays are female university graduates – fully covered in their own neighbourhoods, but voices unveiled on Al Mousawat.

    OWFI sees itself as feminist and revolutionary organisation in solidarity with political and economic struggles of all marginalised peoples in the larger struggle against oppressive economic, military and social forces.

    Recently, their Director and Editor-in-Chief of Al-Mousawat - the soft-spoken but passionate Yanar Mohammed – wrote an open letter and message of solidarity to Occupy Wall Street movement:

    While the 99% of Iraqis seethe with anger waiting for the right conditions to claim what is theirs, they eagerly follow your progress in occupying Wall Street, as our enemy is one whether they are American or Iraqi. That enemy is the 1% of ruthless exploiters … It is time for a political system of equal wealth for all, in other words, a socialist system, where free market rules cannot starve billions while filling the pockets of a few. Connecting such a movement globally was beyond even the wildest dreams of most visionaries, but has proven to be within reach in 2011. And your #Occupy movement has played a leading role in igniting it. …We stand behind you and carry on our continuous resistance to the rule of the 1% in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and the entire world.

    The Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq

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