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Women prominent in coming Iraqi elections

Unlike in past elections, many female candidates are running in the Iraqi parliamentary elections scheduled for the end of this month.
A woman with ink-stained fingers, holds a walking stick at a polling station in Baghdad's Sadr City March 7, 2010. Polling stations opened in Iraq on Sunday for a parliamentary election seen as crucial to the future of a country seeking stability after years of bloodshed. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani  (IRAQ - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS) BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE - RTR2CEG2

The coming Iraqi parliamentary election cycle, scheduled for April 30, is marked by an intensive presence of female candidates on the different lists of Iraqi political blocs, with women representing 2,607 out of 9,032 total candidates.

Iraq’s Electoral Law requires the blocs participating in the elections to have at least one woman candidate for every three male candidates, which means at least 25% of all candidates should be women. The blocs usually have to search for women to fill this quota. However, the current electoral session stands out, due to the participation of several women academics, journalists and civil society activists. Most of them have a vision for change, unlike most participating male candidates who do not even have an electoral program.

Contrary to the previous parliamentary terms, the current term is characterized by the candidacy of many women expressing more tolerance, openness and social and political awareness, be it through their clothing, topics or agenda. Many Iraqis have been talking about this on social media sites, and the current electoral session is bound to witness a unique parliamentary presence for Iraqi women.

Iraq might be on the verge of a new stage, after the failure to govern the country for the past 11 years. It is no coincidence that this stage is accompanied by rising voices of civil movements and figures at the expense of religious ones, which have been losing momentum. The voices of the latter have been drowning out others in the same streets that have grown tired of their slogans focused on the injustice and crimes of the former regime. There is a new generation innocent of everything related to the past stage — a generation of youth. They are aware of democracy, which, despite its limitations, allows them to think out loud and participate in political activities.

This new breeze has also contributed to increasing the number of female candidates running for the coming parliamentary elections. Educated women holding university degrees and diplomas of higher studies in different fields are clearly present in the elections.

The women candidates running in the next elections have stolen the spotlight by attracting the attention of voters with their modern looks, which the public was not used to in the parliament. They have also drawn attention through their remarkable social and cultural presence, especially the women working in literature and media.

This does not apply to all women candidates, for some previously known faces are trying hard to return to the parliament by adopting a discourse that criticizes parliamentary and governmental performance. They have also split from their former parliamentary political blocs and rejoined the blocs that were more likely to win in the current electoral race. A few new women candidates have been spruced up to show their charm, becoming objects of mockery for many social media users, who described them as apparently participating in a beauty contest rather than political elections.

However, this does not mean that there is an electoral culture that has emerged from the democracy of the past 11 years: Next to the posters of liberal female candidates there are posters of other candidates. These posters show the name of the candidate and her coalition, but instead of showing her picture, they show that of her husband, brother or father. These promotion posters are captioned with a sentence that explains the relationship between the man in the picture and the candidate.

Add to this the images of veiled female candidates, who appear as only a black mass in the posters. This reflects the depth of the social crisis plaguing the Iraqi conscience as a result of the religious fatwas and obsolete social norms.

If we put this social crisis and electoral whims aside, we find that there is coherence between the yearning for a civil state — this yearning is prevalent in cultural dialogues and among the youth elites that are fed up with the harbingers of dictatorship after the failure of Islamic parties to manage the country — and the yearning for the rise of women to the parliament, as one of the aspects of the civil state.

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