Kurds appoint first woman prefect in Iraq
Thank goodness for a little good news from Iraq. Mudira Abu Bakr has been appointed town prefect of the Dukan region near Suleimaniya, making her the first woman “governor” since the founding of modern Iraq in 1921.
“I will work according to my action plan to provide the best public services for the people of the Dukan region and I will do my best to ensure the rule of law,” Abu Bakr told journalists at a ceremony to mark the occasion.
Good for the Kurds. Abu Bakr joins Nasreen Mustafa Sideek Barwari, the minister for reconstruction and development in the Kurdistan Regional Government, in rebuilding Iraqi Kurdistan. The appointment of Abu Bakr and Sideek Barwari’s continued duties is in marked contrast to developments to the south, where conservative religious leaders are encouraging, or even forcing, women to cover up and pull back from the relatively equal status they held under Saddam Hussein’s reign. (“Relative” is the operative word here. They were more or less oppressed equally.)
Interestingly, women attained much of their equal status in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war, when the men were sent to the front lines to die and women entered the workforce to replace them — a similar dynamic to what happened in the United States during World War II. After the 1991 Gulf War and the imposition of sanctions, however, jobs disappeared and Saddam began encouraging a religious revival to hold on to power. Women were usually the ones who paid the price, and the _hijab_ became more common as Sunni clerics railed against Western immorality.
But in the north, the Kurds were one their own. When I was there last July and, more recently, during the war, I often saw women working in stores or in businesses and not wearing head scarves. One of the women, an Arab from Baghdad who had moved up to Arbil, worked at the Arbil Towers, the hotel I stayed at, and came out to a Fox News party I attended. The Kurdish _peshemergas_ at the table seemed not to mind (or notice) as she flirted with one of the network’s cameramen.
And Arbil, in the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s territory, is much more conservative than Suleimaniya and the nearby Dukan region, which is controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Women _peshmergas_ are unthinkable to the KDP, but on the day of the liberation of Kirkuk, I ran into an all-woman squad of PUK _peshmergas_, fully armed with Kalashnikovs and wearing the
yellow green headband of their party. I was surprised when I saw them lounging in the back of a truck, and it must have showed. They looked at me, then smiled and laughed at my expression.
So Abu Bakr’s appointment is good news, indeed. Now let’s hope the rest of the country can see the good that women such as Sideek Barwari and Abu Bakr have done and can do, and learn from their example.
[NOTE: I had a color-blind moment when I wrote this and said the PUK’s color was yellow. It’s green.]