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Iraqi women learn about democracy as elections approach

Iraq, March 5, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Mercy Corps Iraq  </span>
    In Muthana governorate, 63-year-old Um Mohammed looks through Mercy Corps’ Democracy, Governance and Elections booklet. Photo: Mercy Corps Iraq

Living and working in Baghdad these days seems to be about waiting. People are waiting to see if there will be violence during the elections, waiting to see the results of the elections on March 7 and waiting to see if those results will be accepted peacefully — or if the country will be plunged back into conflict.

Mercy Corps is committed to staying in Iraq and helping the people who need help the most, which means working in places like Sadr City, Diyala and Kirkuk.

In preparation for the elections, we launched a series of lectures in our women’s literacy centers on Democracy, Governance and Elections in nine governorates, reaching about 15,000 illiterate women. We didn’t just want to teach women how to vote — we wanted to explain to them what happens when they vote and how the Iraqi democracy is designed to function.

Yesterday, we got the results back from the pre- and post-tests that we did with a sample of women who participated in the Democracy lectures in four governorates in southern Iraq. The results are outstanding: in ThiQar province, only 39.9 percent of the women surveyed before the lecture thought that in a democracy more than one person is involved in decision making. After the lecture, 81.6 percent of the women understood that, in democracy, decisions should be made by the people.

In Muthana governorate, only 69 percent of the women thought that boys and girls had equal rights to education before the lecture, but 95.9 percent understood that boys and girls have the same right to education during the post test. When women understand that their daughters and sons both have the right to receive an education, they are more likely to advocate for that right on behalf of their children.

While this is only a small step in encouraging women’s participation in Iraq’s democracy, I think it’s an important one. International Women’s Day is on March 8, and I can’t think of a more fitting contribution than helping Iraqi women vote in their elections.