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Manal Omar's recently published book describes the powerful Iraqi women who she encountered and worked with as the Regional Coordinator for "Women for Women International" in Iraq after the US-led invasion. Who is the intended audience? Manal Omar: The main reason for writing the book was to be able to highlight the personal side of conflict. For too long, Iraq has only been discussed in terms of suicide bombs and weapons of mass destruction. We forget that the human face that is paying the price in the midst of all the conflict.

Particularly the women, who I firmly believe tend to bear the brunt of conflict. I wanted to write the personal stories because when I returned to the US after five years of working in the Middle East, all I heard about was women as victims. Yet in all my time working, I hardly found women who stayed victims. They always managed to struggle to become survivors, and often grew even more than that. For every tragedy I encountered, there were also strong Iraqi women working to survive and help those around them.

I realized that if I were to tell these women's stories, I would need to share my own also.

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Iraq changed my life. I was able to really grow and challenge many of my absolute values. I thought this was an equally important story to share. It's not as simple as coming to do humanitarian or development work — as aid workers, there is also a personal story and identity that each of us brings to the country. My goal was to have this discussion in as easy of a format as possible.

Manal Omar

I wanted the average American reader to be able to pick up the book and travel to Iraq through my words, to learn more about the country and about women living under Arabic and Islamic law and traditions. NCCI: As a woman of Palestinian descent who has worked in Iraq and Afghanistan, do you feel that women's rights can actually advance under the occupation of a foreign nation?

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Manal Omar: A window of opportunity opens during times of conflict. I grew up with some of the strongest women surrounding me, precisely because they had grown up under occupation and conflict. The traditional barriers were broken down, and the social contract was renegotiated. Women in conflict are able to take on new roles that are not simply defined by their traditional gender roles. The challenge is trying to secure this once things begin to settle and ensure it enters into the new social contract that eventually will emerge.

This can only be done by including it in the rule of law. Too many times, we see how war allows women to step into the forefront this happened in America during World War II as well , and then pushed to the back once the war is over. It is crucial that women think strategically in terms of long-term gains, as well as maximizing the window of opportunity that opens during conflict.

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Manal Omar: The biggest challenge is when women become the negotiating chip. One of the titles of my chapters in my book is "Negotiating Chip," because I witnessed too often how women's rights were used during political or social bargaining. However, during political debates, or when it's time to vote on a resolution, they will not vote pro-women.

When I would challenge them, they often would say that their primary issue is federalization, and as a result, they would strike a deal on a resolution for women if more conservative parties would vote on the resolution of federalization. The second challenge is what I call the "not now" argument. This argument usually states that because of overall violence and instability, it is not an appropriate time to discuss women's issues.

I have witnessed how the "not now" easily becomes the "not ever. Did you notice any changes in women's status in the country at that time? Unfortunately, during my trip there was the announcement of the new government ministries.

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It was very sad to see that Iraqi women were not part of the list of ministries at all. Many of the women's organizations I have worked with for the last seven years called me and were in shock to see how Iraqi women continue to lose rights rather than gain them! After the previous elections, there were 6 female ministers; now there are none.

Even the Ministry for Women's Affairs has an interim male Minister. This highlights that the challenge facing women is stronger than ever. What special protection should NGOs and the government seek to provide them with? Monday, November 19, Barefoot in Baghdad: A story of identity—my own and what it means to be a woman in chaos. By Manal M. Weaver II , Ph. Admittedly, many are personal—and she states that at the outset. But, having lived in Bangladesh for 14 months, I agree and concur with her observations.

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They are captivating and heartwrenching, to say the least. The story of the five Iraqi girls inside an American trailer in the Green Zone pp. The fourth reason this book is interesting is that it along with a number of other books well advertises the plight of women in many parts of the world.

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These four reasons alone are sufficient to recommend this book highly. It is interesting, insightful, and captivating. Barefoot in Baghdad: A story of identity—my own and what it means to be a woman in chaos can be purchased at Amazon. Weaver II , Manal M. No comments:. Newer Post Older Post Home. Subscribe to: Post Comments Atom.