Iraqi Women's Minister Resigns, Draws Support
by Corey Flintoff
February 17, 2009 · Women in Iraq's parliament have rallied behind the country's minister for women's affairs, who resigned earlier this week saying she was frustrated by a lack of support from the government.
The resignation highlights the plight of many Iraqi women, especially widows created by the country's decades of war.
Nawal al-Samarraie had served as Iraq's minister for women's affairs for less than six months when she created a stir by turning in her resignation. She complained she had never received support from the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and that her budget for projects had been slashed from about $7,500 a month to around $1,500.
"I think it is wrong to stay as a minister without doing anything for my people, especially in this time and in this situation of Iraqi women — we have an army of widows, violated women, detainees, illiteracy and unemployment — many, many problems. I had to resign," she said.
In Iraq, Widowhood Often Means Poverty
Iraqi women's advocates have coined the phrase "an army of widows" to refer to the women who lost their breadwinners in the conflicts reaching back to the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. Samarraie says there are more than 3 million such women, most of them with children, who have no social safety net.
Samarraie, a 47-year-old gynecologist and member of parliament, says that part of the problem is that Iraq is a patriarchal society, where women are considered adjuncts of their husbands or fathers. And part of it, she says, is political expediency.
"I think they neglect it because they consider that women's issues [are] secondary," she says, "compared with what's going on in the street — violence and unemployed men."
Traditionally, widows in Iraqi society moved back in with their extended families, but many families already have too many mouths to feed, leaving widows and their children homeless.
An Iraqi widow can claim a small government pension, ranging from about $50 to $75 a month, which many Iraqis say is not enough for a family to subsist.