Blog Day 1-Valuable women in Iraq

Blog Day 1 – 12 January 2014

Challenged conventions and the complexity of Iraq 
By Marcel van der Heijden

I am spending this week in sunny Erbil, but the sun has not touched my skin yet. Instead, I am having a great time inside, at a Train-the-Trainer workshop which Hivos and Al-Amal are conducting in the framework of the “Women’s Power in Politics” programme. 27 trainers from all provinces of Iraq are being trained and prepared to support a thousand female candidates in the upcoming federal parliamentary elections in April. Indeed, a very ambitious plan. The Train-the-Trainer workshop is conducted by Anne Graumans from the Netherlands and Ilham Makki Hammadi from Iraq.
Two participants have not managed to come here on this first day. The two are on still their way from Anbar province and were confronted with bridges that had been destroyed. Anbar is the province where the combat recently started again. It brought the violence in Iraq back on the front pages and in the news bulletins on TV. The media tend to simplify the situation, but the reality is more complex, to my mind. I will certainly have a chat with the participants from Anbar when they arrive later this week, because I want know more about what is going on there.
The discussion on this first day of the Train-the-Trainer workshop is about gender, lead by Ilham Makki. Immediately, we get vivid and heated debate. Wow! It brings some fireworks in the room. One funny photo, projected on the screen, raises interesting discussions about gender roles. It shows a woman in traditional Iraqi clothes sitting on a motorbike. When one of the participants compares this photo to the peasant women who drive a tractor in the countryside, others claim that this is totally different, because this photo shows a traditional woman in an unconventional situation. This photo challenges the conventions. I agree. Gosh, I like this photo.
In the heat of the debate, I suddenly noticed that my neighbor had some text printed on her head scarf. It said “Sweet and Lovely” and “Pretty” in English. I could not help suppressing a smile. In my eyes, it seems the opposite of what the hijab is supposed to say. Her hijab actually challenges the conventions, although no one seems to notice. Reality is always more complex, isn’t it? This week promises great fun!

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