Last Tuesday at noon, September 14, The Ashby Residential College hosted, "Women as a Barometer of Success in Post Conflict," presented by speaker Ms. Manal Omar. Omar is the Director of Iraq Programs under the Center for Post-conflict Peace and Stability Operations at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). The USIP is an independent, nonpartisan, national institution established and funded by Congress. Omar discussed her recently published book, Barefoot in Baghdad: A Story of Identity, in front of a crowd of about 50 members.
Omar is an American Muslim. She lived in Baghdad from 2003 to 2005. In her new book, she provides a rare glimpse into facets of Iraqi life that are not often depicted in American newspapers, magazines, or on American news station. In her book, she describes the dangers of living in Baghdad during a time of war, especially for women, while on the other hand showing the good times she experienced while working and living there.
In regards to women being the, "Barometer of Success in Post Conflict," Omar explained how women's rights have improved and what steps were taken during her time overseas to improve their rights and overall way of life. She explained that to move women forward, they must be educated. "When I get into a country, I say, ‘What are the women doing already?'" She continued to explain that, "You find out about the local communities. What are they doing and you start working with them, and that includes the men. A lot of times, it's the men who are progressive. You would be amazed at how much women are the ones who are segregating other women. A lot of time men, particularly men with daughters, will come to say that, ‘We want a better life for our daughters but my wife won't let me.'" Omar says this is the case because, "she's been so ingrained in the system that [the traditional way] is how it's done." The women are sometimes reluctant to change, even if it is for the betterment of their families and of themselves.
To better persuade women to take more actions to improve their rights and the rights of all, Omar stated that, "You have to give them something tangible. Every country I've been in women will say to me, ‘we want food, we want electricity, and we want water.'" She explained that these women do not generally want to talk about women's right, birth control, and other issues; they mainly "want to survive." Omar says that the women say "we just came out of war, where's my income, where's livelihood?" To help the women, Omar and the government program gave them job skills training. "With the job skills training we do rights awareness, we are listening." This is so that the women can receive something tangible while gaining wisdom at the same time. It gives them a chance to talk and express what they want and need in a male-dominated world where their voice is not usually heard. The steps forward that women in Baghdad have made illustrate the improvements the country of Iraq has made as a whole over the past years.