Greater role for Iraqi women sought

Five female Iraqi cabinet ministers have demanded a greater role for women in the country's political arena and complained about obstacles in running their ministries.

    Women constitute more than 50% of the nation's population

    During a Baghdad press conference to mark International Women's Day on Tuesday, they said there had been progress but it had not been sufficient.


    "We have cleared some hurdles, which raises a lot of hope," Pascale Ishu Warda, minister of displaced persons and emigration, said.


    A quota of 25% of the seats in the new National Assembly was reserved for women in the 30 January national elections, and female candidates took 31%, or 86 seats of a total 275.


    At the same time, 60% of voters were women, Public Works Minister Nasrin al-Barwari said.


    Not enough


    A number that might be seen by many European counterparts as a victory prompted Laila Abd al-Latif, minister of labour and social affairs, to say "31% doesn't satisfy us when you consider that Iraqi women make up more than 50% of the population".


    Women accounted for 60% of
    voters in Iraq's January vote

    She called for the government now being formed to reflect in its ranks a number of women equal to the proportion of seats they won in the assembly.


    Including the prime minister, president and two vice presidents, Iraq's interim government has 36 members, six of whom are women.


    Meanwhile, al-Barwari said she was not worried about the implication for women of victory in the elections by a Shia Muslim list, the United Iraqi Alliance.


    Funds shortage


    "If they really want to create stability, they should include all groups and different opinions," al-Barwari, who was elected on the Kurdish Alliance ticket, said.


    "I have no fear of an Islamic government, because Islam defends the rights of women."


    "I have no fear of an Islamic government because Islam defends the rights of women"

    Nasrin al-Barwari,
    Iraqi Public Works Minister

    She expressed a general dissatisfaction over a shortage of funds, which she blamed in part on US aid policy.


    "The Americans' priorities are constantly changing," she said.


    "Every time the ambassador changes, the priorities change," she said in allusion to the replacement last year of US overseer Paul Bremer by Ambassador John Negroponte, who is himself leaving.


    "We start projects off and then, six weeks later, the priorities change and the budget is chopped in half."


    Another problem, she said, is that of international donors, who "impose numerous conditions on the Iraqi government."


    Warda, whose ministry is responsible for encouraging expatriates to return to Iraq, said her ministry has a "very low budget".



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