TUC Women's Conference: Iraqi & Kurdish Women Speak Out

Submitted by Janine on Tue, 03/14/2006 - 19:34

Nazanin T. Ali, Head of Women in the Kurdistan Workers’ Union, was a conference guest speaker.

She brought solidarity greetings, and talked of the struggle to improve workers’ conditions and women’s rights. She described the women’s contribution to the Kurdish national liberation movement, giving examples of women activists. She also reported on years of repression by the Turkish and Iraqi states.

Over the last 15 years, there has been some self-rule in Southern Kurdistan, with the election of a Kurdish National Authority.

Kurdish parties are participating in the Iraqi elections and in the government. Iraqi Kurdistan has recently elected a President.

Nazanin explained that Kurdish women do face serious social problems. But she had a great deal of confidence in the constitution, laws, and the Kurdish nationalist movement, to deliver equality.

She was followed by Violet A Essa Qalaab, President of the Oil Gas Union in Basra, who told us that …

Before the wars, women in Iraq had better rights than in most Islamic countries, achieved by years of struggle. But Saddam Hussein deprived Iraqi women of education and equality. The economic crisis hit women hard, forcing them to make lots of sacrifices – “Iraqi women became a commodity to be bought and sold”, and qualified doctors and engineers were forced to take low-skilled, low-paid jobs.

In the post-war situation, things are not much better – there is poverty, disease, and lack of security. Women are vulnerable and in fear of random attacks; some are even lived in abandoned and derelict buildings. “The new government has forgotten the suffering of women”.

The Oil and Gas Union campaigns for a Labour Code to adhere to ILO standards. It also demands women’s access to health, education and decent pensions. It opposes privatisation, supports public ownership, and wants Iraq to be free of foreign troops.

Finally, Violet pleaded with delegates to support Iraqi workers’ fight against the anti-union Decree 8750.

As well as the women addressing the full conference, there was a fringe meeting, addressed by representatives of the Iraqi Kurdistan Journalists Union, and the Printing Union.

Additionally, I and a few other delegates asked questions of the Women’s Committee in order to get more information about the TUC Iraq Committee and solidarity campaigning.

Pauline Bradley, of Iraq Union Solidairty, was at TUC Women’s Conference, representing Haringey Trades Union Council. Here is the excerpt from her report about the Iraqi and Kurdish women …

For the last year, the TUC, IWF and others have been organising for the delegation to come to the UK. Due to the fears of the immigration service, the women could only come for a week; so it was a jam packed week for Nazanin T Ali of the Kurdistan Workers Union, Huda S.Rafiq from the Iraqi Kurdistan Journalists Union, Violet E Essa Qalaab, President of the Oil and Gas Union Basrah, and Hasnaa A Abdulsatar from the Printing Union.

Nazanin T Ali talked of how her husband and family had been killed under Saddam Hussein, and how this has happened to many Kurdish women. She and Huda S. Rafiq talked of honour killings in Kurdish areas, how these cultural traditions are engrained and how women’s bodies are often seen floating in rivers; even though the Kurdish parliament has banned honour killing. Girls are generally just educated to primary level, and due to the lack of money and security, families send their children to work when they’re young.

Violet talked of how oil must be kept in the public sector but how the equipment is outdated and how new technology is needed, which is in the west. Her union works with global unions like ICEM, they still need training in trade unionism, health and safety, negotiation skills etc. They’re all campaigning for a labour code to over turn Saddam Hussein’s labour code, which is still law. They asked for our support in getting rid of decree 8750, which was issued in August and could severely quash the Iraqi trade unions.

They spoke in the main conference and in a fringe meeting. Some attendees wanted to focus on the media fuelled conflict between Sunni’s and Shia’s. The Iraqi women talked of how they don’t see themselves in these categories, how they regret the bombing of mosques and how those who carry out such atrocities are “the enemies of Iraq.”