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Encouraging Transitional National Assembly of Iraq to Adopt a Constitution Granting Women Equal Rights

Location: Washington, DC



Ms. GRANGER. Mr. Speaker, I have often had the opportunity to speak on this floor on important issues, but none more important than this, because today I am honored to sponsor this resolution in support of the rights of all Iraqis.

It has been said that a nation reveals its character by the values it upholds. In planting the seed of democracy in the deserts of the Middle East, the United States and our allies hope for a rich harvest of freedom for the people of Iraq. Having removed the dictator, the allies have moved to put Iraqis in control of Iraq. Now, as they draft and ratify their Constitution, we will indeed see the character of a new Iraqi nation revealed through the principles it chooses to uphold.

That is why I urge the Iraqi Transitional National Assembly to create a government worthy of its people, a government that represents every Iraqi from every corner of Iraq, be they Sunni or Shia, rich or poor, male or female.

Human rights are not a privilege granted by the few, they are a liberty entitled to all, and human rights, by definition, include the rights of all humans, those in the dawn of life, the dusk of life, or the shadows of life.

Mr. Speaker, the women of Iraq have waited long enough. Having lived in the shadows of Saddam's Iraq, they are eager for the sunlight of a new nation and a new way of life. I have met these women, and I have felt their courage. I have spoken to them, and, more important, I have listened to them. I have heard more than their words, I have heard their dreams; dreams of a peaceful nation where they can raise their children and make decisions on their own and take part in society.

Mr. Speaker, a free nation must be based on human rights. Just as our Founding Fathers built a new Republic based on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, so, too, the Iraqi nation must choose to uphold the values of human rights for all. Indeed, most Iraqis seem to want this.

In the run-up to the historic January 30 election, Iraqis insisted that every third name on the ballot had to be that of a woman. The result? Upon election, 31 percent of the Transitional National Assembly's membership was female, nearly double the membership of the U.S. Congress.

By any definition, this would be quite an achievement. But to understand where Iraq's women are, consider where they have been. To know the horrors of Saddam, look at how Saddam treated the most vulnerable. In Saddam's Iraq, women were abused and assaulted, beaten and battered, raped and relegated to second-class citizens. In Saddam's Iraq, women could not own property; they were property.

Truly, Saddam Hussein was a criminal crying out for international intervention. And these are people, the Iraqi women, crying out for freedom.

History will record that Saddam got what he deserved. The question is, will Iraqi women get what they deserve, what they have earned, what they demand?

When I met with 20 of these women just weeks before the January election, they explained that because they were women, they were virtual targets of the people trying to stop the elections, because they were running for office. More than half had had members of their families kidnapped or assassinated. Almost all had to have bodyguards. Many had been in exile for years because of their beliefs, their education, and their choice to have a career. Yet they persevered.

They persevered because they knew their election was proof that freedom works, and they persevered because they knew that the more women elected, the less the chance of a Saddam-style policy toward women would ever again come to Iraq.

Proudly, defiantly, and amazingly, these women had the courage of their convictions and changed history. Some of the very women we met with before the election who were so fearful of the outcome and proposed violence led their village walking miles to cast their votes.

Then weeks after that vote, I led another delegation to join 150 Iraqi women who were leaders in their communities and their sects who came to a conference to hear us talk about the principles and practices of democracy.

Women all over Iraq were given the opportunity to apply to be a part of that conference. Do the women of Iraq want democracy? Well, 1,200 of them signed applications hoping to be chosen for this conference. That is right: 1,200 Iraqi women put their names in a document stating who they were and where they lived, that they wanted to learn about democracy from the United States of America.

But while the election of so many Iraqi women last January gives us great hope, recent reports about the drafting of the constitution give us great concerns. With so many reports and rumors, perhaps it is best to take inventory of what we know, as well as what we fear.

We know that Islam allows for rights for women, but we fear the interpretation of religious law might unfairly discriminate against women. We know that a policy of equal rights for women in the constitution would safeguard Iraqi women today and for generations to come, but we fear that extremist elements might prevent the passage of such a constitutional protection.

And we note that the surest way to limit the future and the progress of Iraq is to limit the rights and protections of women. But we fear that women may not be allowed even basic rights on matters of marriage, divorce, economic opportunity, or political involvement.

Mr. Speaker, the people of Iraq deserve better and the women of Iraq demand more. Let me be blunt. American troops have come so far, sacrificed so much, persevered so long to see the tyranny of an unlawful dictator replaced by the tyranny of legal oppression for women. A free Iraq must be free for all Iraqis.

A democracy in the Middle East must be more than a democracy in name only; it must live out its principles. Freedom is not something that can be limited or divided or restricted. It applies to anyone and everyone anywhere and everywhere.

So I put forward this resolution and urge my colleagues not to just stand with me but to stand with the women of Iraq, stand with women everywhere who desire the freedom that we fought for and continue to fight for in Iraq.

Those brave women are writing bold new chapters in the story of freedom. In doing so, they are part of an ever-growing, ever-evolving story.


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