University of Memphis

“Wartime Iraq and Gender Ideologies” by Allante’ Boykin @ University of Memphis

In war time Iraq, conflict spills from the battlefield into civilian life. As a consequence, the dynamics of the family is corrupted, and homes are left unattended. Woman-headed households are mostly affected by the war at home and susceptible to violence. Traditionally, women are accompanied in public; women are vulnerable to rape, assault, and death in public by themselves . If raped, the woman’s honor is diminished; exile or worse death by a male family member are both options for dishonor. Aside from violence, women-headed households are also disproportionately at risk of poverty. In Iraq, there are limited employment opportunities available to women, because the positions are promised to a male counter-part. Since women are burdened with both providing and taking care of home, these women are more at risk to violence. Iraq is a male-dominant or submissive society, gender role or traditional norms have created a hostile environment for public life and non-gender friendly workforce.

In the lecture, “Gender and Humanitarian Issues in Wartime Iraq”, keynote speaker Susan Hannah Allen provides insight into how cultural context and conflict shapes the consequences of civil conflict for women. After the 2003 invasion by the United States, “Operation Enduring Freedom” Iraq spiraled into a deadly civil war. Although women were not active participants of the civil war, they were left to take on all roles of the male provider. In Dr. Susan Allen’s research, she utilized data from the UNICEF and the World Bank to shed light on the changing gender ideologies and relations during wartime Iraq. She examines occupation, political transitions, and the ongoing conflict that affect women in Iraq. The data finds that the gap between men and women literacy and unemployment has a large effect on the well beings of women and families.

Yes, I agree with Dr. Allen’s argument that cultural context has a direct effect on the consequences of civil conflict, for women. More importantly, I believe that the most important point that Dr. Allen mentioned was that with reconstructing a new state, development could potentially have some negative effects on women in Iraq. On one hand, economy expansion and civil services may shape opportunities available for women. On the other hands, state development challenges the “traditional family” and patriarchal structures. The introduction of such institutions like the World Bank could ensure or implement a new public life for women. In addition it is an attempt to democratize and is a sneak attack on the authoritarian regime. It seems that the World Bank may satisfy women’s economic need, but it is uncertain if it secures safety.

Without realizing, Dr. Susan Allen gives a brief glimpse into the United States interference in international politics and gender in an authoritarian society, in the case of Iraq. According to President George W. Bush, the mission was to confiscate the mass destruction, weapons, end terrorism under the regime of Saddam Hussein, and free the Iraqi people from an authoritarian government. Other question arises such as: “How much should the United States interfere in interactional affairs such as Iraq? Who ultimately pays the cost for ending terrorism and ensuring freedom? Does liberating the people include empowering women rights?

In conclusion, Dr. Susan Allen provides the audience with the argument that women are more affected by civil conflict due to cultural norms. Also the lecture points out the economic and social development that may have something to do with the civil conflict in Iraq, and the changing of gender ideologies. Although Dr. Susan Allen presentation focus primarily on women who have become head of household due to civil conflict, the speaker still managed to include information about the economic and policy development, and what that may mean for women status in Iraq. I believe Dr. Allen’s research and work could be a unique contribution to Middle Eastern scholarship. Also, interest may be sparked that could start more conversations on the topic.

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