Undeterred by cleric’s intimidation, Iraqi women press on with protests

Hundreds of Iraqi women took to the streets of Baghdad and Basra February 13.
Sunday 16/02/2020
 Iraqi women participate in anti-government protests in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, February 13. (AFP)
Undaunted. Iraqi women participate in anti-government protests in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, February 13. (AFP)

LONDON - Against the wishes of Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, Iraqi women showed a firm commitment to the protest movement that has shaken the country’s political and religious establishment.

Hundreds of Iraqi women took to the streets of Baghdad and Basra February 13, rejecting the code of conduct in demonstrations that al-Sadr tried to impose.

Al-Sadr, who has a wide following in Iraq but whose stance on the protest movement has shifted from support to hostility, said it was immoral for men and women to mix in demonstrations. He denounced protests as bringing “nudity, promiscuity, drunkenness, immorality, debauchery… and non-believers.”

Demonstrators were undeterred. Men and women were seen holding hands and camping out together in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. On February 13, men formed a protective cordon around women protesters as they marched.

“Revolution is my name, male silence is the real shame!” they chanted. Some clamoured: “Freedom, revolution, feminism!”

The rallies slammed Iraqi authorities for being corrupt, incompetent and serving the interests of neighbouring Iran.

As they took to the streets, women demonstrators said they knew defiance can come with a cost. Many women were among protesters killed in recent weeks.

Iraqi Women’s League spokeswoman Ahlam Kadoom said “the uprising continues to gather strength and support,” despite the “brutal repression and threats to life.” Demonstrators said they suspect some risks are from pro-Iran militias and security services.

Female protesters said they are aware they are breaking down social barriers and challenging Iran’s societal and political model.

“They want us to be a second Iran but Iraqi women weren’t born to let men dictate to them what to do,” protester Raya Assi told Agence France-Presse. “They have to accept us the way we are.”

 (With news agencies)

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