Open Letter to Hillary Clinton



Margaret Owen

Widows for Peace and Reconstruction


July 26, 2003

18 June 2003

Dear Senator Clinton


I have often heard you speak about the human rights of women and children in developing countries in general, and in countries afflicted by armed conflict specifically. I have listened to you with admiration at the Beijing Conference of 1995, and at the UN Commission on the Status of Women in previous years.

Aware of your commitment to justice for women, I am writing to you on behalf of Iraqi Women in the hope that you will be able to exert your considerable influence in the US Senate to ensure their human rights at this crucial time in their history.

I am the Founder of the international, UK-based NGO (with consultative status at the UN) EMPOWERING WIDOWS IN DEVELOPMENT (EWD). After 9/11 I established the network WIDOWS FOR PEACE AND RECONSTRUCTION (WPR) which seeks to address the particular plight of the millions of uncounted invisible and abandoned women who have lost their main breadwinner and other male relatives and are exposed to violence, poverty and marginalisation on a massive scale. (I was also the consultant to UN DAW for their publication WIDOWHOOD that addresses the situation of conflict widows and wives of the disappeared)

For the last few months, I have been working closely with Iraqi Women in exile in the UK and through them with our government departments, DFID and the FCO, in an effort to ensure that gender issues are mainstreamed in any post-conflict administration.

The Iraqi Women here had indeed put forward a very detailed proposal for a WOMENS TENT MEETING IN BAGHDAD. (draft attached).

This Tent Meeting was designed to take place as soon as possible and definitely before the next meeting of the Interim Administration, so that the conclusions of its three-day deliberations and the text of its manifesto could be presented to the IA when it met again in July.

The workshops planned were to cover such issues as:

Law reform; adoption into domestic law of CEDAW and other international human rights treaties; law and justice (personal status); elimination of violence; prostitution and trafficking; health; poverty and income-generating; widows immediate needs and long-term roles and representation.

Participants to the proposed Women's Tent Meeting would have come from across the wide spectrum of Iraqi Society, accommodating Sunni and Shia, Christians and Jews, Arab, Kurd and Turkoman, rural and urban, educated and illiterate, exiled women along with women within Iraq. It would have been truly democratic and organised for Iraqi Women by Iraqi Women.

For some weeks the UK government appeared to support this proposal and the Iraqi Women in the UK, linked up with those in Europe and within Iraq, were greatly encouraged and optimistic that this meeting would take place.

It has now come to our knowledge that Paul Bremer, the US representative in charge of reconstruction in Iraq has vetoed this proposal. And what is now planned is something very minor which can not possibly provide the much-needed channel and opportunity for Iraqi Women to state their demands and rights.

We understand that the UK government is subservient to the US decision to hold, instead, a small series of workshops on July 9th. Exiled women are not to attend. The meeting will be very small, restricted to fewer than 100 women. Possibly " celebrity Arab Women" will be invited to give speeches and make the event look important, as a cosmetic. For example, Queen Noor and Mrs. Susan Mubarak have been mentioned.

This is highly upsetting to the Iraqi Women in the UK, extremely professional and well-qualified, and dedicated to returning to their country to contribute to reconstruction, justice and democracy. They had planned and worked for a working conference of women, not a shop-front over in one day!

Given the huge area of immediate need and the complexities of the medium and long-term roles of Iraqi women, many of whom are now the sole economic support of their children, and sick, wounded, traumatised and frail people, this solution is almost an insult to Iraqi Women, who now number far more than 55% of the population, due to the huge numbers of deaths in war, executions and disappearances. The mass graves give us some indication of the huge numbers of widows and orphans who have a right to have their voices heard.

Iraqi Women are asking now for 40% representation in any new administration. Such issues as participation in decision-making are not on the programme for Mr. Bremer's Women's Workshop on July 9th.

We would, therefore, be most grateful if you could consider investigating what the US administration in Iraq is prepared to do in the context of Security Council 1325, and other human rights treaties and conventions. Will it ensure that the women of Iraq are properly represented in any new administration, nationally and locally, that gender is mainstreamed across all government departments, and that women's voices are properly heard?

We must learn the lessons of Afghanistan, the Balkans, Rwanda, and Angola where women, in the post-conflict environment have been abandoned, and where millions of widows and other single women are exposed to appalling violence amid extreme poverty in a militarised and unstable society.

Gender issues, as I know you agree, are not just an issue for women, but affect the whole of society, and have implications for conflict prevention, future peace and sustainable development.

We hope you will be able to take up this issue in the US Senate.

Yours sincerely
Margaret Owen

36, Faroe Road, London, W14 OEP
Tel/Fax: 0207 603 9733



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