TALKING of women, feisty Winnie Monsod said the Filipino woman has gone a long way.
But not just in the Philippines, where women first won their right of suffrage in 1937. And not just in Thailand, among other Asians, when women suffrage was granted three years earlier. Not just in Japan in 1945, or in Singapore in 1947, not just in Iraq in 1980. Women are winning their rights almost across the globe, and even the Iraqi women are fighting for their rights inside the parliament.
Close to 2000 Iraqi women ran for seats in the parliament during Iraq’s second democratic election just last week, with the US military forces supposedly ready to pull out. During election day on March 7, there were some attempts to break the peace, as usual, by militants or tribal opponents. Mortars “rained” north of Baghdad. But that didn’t stop people from voting.
Even before this, you could hear the woman’s voice.
One day in the previous parliament (the result of the first democratic election in 2005), an Iraqi male parliament speaker sniped at women during a privilege speech, saying that women couldn’t be effective leaders because (according to the news report) “they’re distracted by thoughts of the husbands getting another wife.” As quickly, the women officials boycotted the session and walked out en masse, causing the parliament to lose quorum. The ladies came back into the session hall only after the male official apologized.
In the past, there was hijab for the Muslim women whose heads and faces were covered. Recall, too, the practice of sati among Muslim Indians where a widow was burned alive on a pyre at her husband’s death, alone or with her husband during his cremation. In another Asian country, a whole community could stone a woman to death in “honor killing” if she was disloyal to her husband.
And, of course, there’s the more familiar picture not so long ago even of Filipino Chinese women limping along with their bound feet in “lotus shoes.”
These are hoary tales of old anti-woman practices in Asia. But not quite only in the past. It’s said that even in Iraq, the society still condones genital mutilations and honor killings. Still, that will not be for long, it won’t be the same from now on.
Just before the first Iraqi elections in 2005, there were violent reactions from opponents of democracy and some Saddam Hussein believers. But in this second parliamentary election last week, the poll time was peaceful, except for the mortars flying in Baghdad.
The political campaign was interesting, in the case of women. There were some unveiled faces of some female candidates. Their pictures were posted in huge ads, like the face of a candidate in a tarpaulin along the highway in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. It caused minor traffic accidents at a major intersection. “Drivers turn their heads to look at Jala Naftaji and this has caused collisions at intersections, bridges and checkpoints,” according to a police officer who declined to be identified.
The posted candidate, Naftaji, 54, said in an interview, “I have heard (about the traffic accidents) - -I think it is down to this new democratic experience known as Iraq.”
The violent reactions from ethnic groupings and tribal politics have tapered off, hopefully. There are many things for women officials to do, in a nation that always seemed like a war-zone, to raise the standard of living in the matter of medical care and education, in particular.
Many Iraqi women, not just the men, need to have jobs, too, for the Saddam Hussein control of their life, and the incidents of violence, have widowed them and made their children fatherless.
When we see how the woman in other Asian countries fared, then we recognize that the Filipina has many things to thank women leaders (and the enlightened men who see the value of women’s rights) for carrying on the fight.